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A Secret Weapon For Obama's Labor Secretary

Alyssa Rosenberg is a correspondent for Government Executive:

Though she's been a staunch supporter of union priorities like the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), California Congresswoman Hilda Solis wasn't on anyone's short list to head the Department of Labor. But with the AP annoucing today that she will be Obama's pick, Solis may have a secret weapon as she takes over the department. Early in her career, she worked as a management analyst at the Office of Management and Budget. That understanding of the inner workings of agencies, and how to measure success, could come in handy as unions and workplace safety groups push for major shifts in the budget priorities laid down by current Labor Secretary Elaine Chao. "[Chao] takes great pride in cutting her budget," says AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuel. "I'm not sure the secretary should be proud if the results aren't better."

Solis seems like a good choice for a labor movement that wants to see funding shifted from union oversight programs to efforts like conducting the required number of mine safety inspections, and restarting surveys of workers in vulnerable industries on issues like proper overtime payment. While Solis's support for labor legislation like EFCA will earn her points in the labor community, Samuels says that shifts within the department, and the appointment of agency heads who are dedicated to the issues, could produce significant changes as well. Having a new labor secretary who knows her way around a red pen, a budget, and management principles could be a promising start.

--Alyssa Rosenberg