Bush Mine Safety Nominee Takes Labor Dept. Post

The man President Bush chose to oversee federal mine safety laws has not been able to win Senate confirmation but has gone to work at the Labor Department anyway.

The department recently hired Richard Stickler to serve as an adviser on mine safety issues, and he has been on the job a week, Dirk Fillpot, a spokesman for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, said Thursday.

The White House nominated Stickler last year to head the mine agency, part of the Labor Department. However, Senate Democrats have so far blocked Stickler's confirmation.

Stickler's critics say the former Pennsylvania mine safety official failed to demonstrate adequate concern for safety problems in the mining industry.

Bush recently praised Stickler during a signing ceremony for a new law that gives miners more oxygen supplies and puts rescue teams closer to mines. Congress was prompted to write the law following a string of fatal mining accidents this year in West Virginia and Kentucky.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said federal agencies sometimes hire presidential nominees into jobs as consultants when their confirmation process is delayed.

She said Stickler's new Labor Department job is not a sign that the White House has given up on seeing him confirmed as the head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

"That doesn't change our position that we believe he deserves an up or down vote," Perino said.

Sen.Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., has placed a hold on Stickler's nomination, a procedural maneuver. To overcome that, Stickler would need the support of 60 lawmakers.