Back to Officials


Name: Michaels, David
Current Position: Previous Assistant Secretary

The deaths of eleven workers in the explosion of BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil platform Deepwater Horizon, has highlighted the importance of worker safety on the job. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the federal agency responsible for protecting the safety and health of American workers, has been headed since December 9, 2009, by a public health expert, Dr. David Michaels, PhD, who has devoted his career to issues of public and occupational health. Michaels has already testified before Congress about OSHA’s role in protecting the more than 33,000 people who are working on the massive effort to clean up the toxic oil spill. 

Born October 11, 1954, in New York City, Michaels is the son of prominent journalist Ruth Gruber, a “renaissance woman” who in 1931 earned a doctorate (in German Philosophy, Modern English Literature and Art History) from the University of Cologne in Germany at age 20, covered the odyssey of the “Exodus 1947” ship attempting to transport 4,515 Jewish Holocaust survivors to Palestine, and wound up her career writing about the dramatic migration of thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 1985. 
Michaels earned a B.A. in history at the City College of New York in 1977, a Master’s in Public Health at Columbia University in 1981, and a PhD in Sociomedical Sciences, also at Columbia, in 1987. From 1986 to 1990, Michaels founded and directed the Epidemiology Unit of the Rikers Island Health Service, the first such unit in an American jail, conducting studies on tuberculosis, sexually-transmitted disease, drug abuse, mental health, homelessness and HIV.  In the early 1990s, he developed a mathematical model estimating the number of children and adolescents orphaned by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  From 1991 to 1998, Michaels was Professor of Community Health at the City University of New York Medical School. 
In 1998, President Bill Clinton nominated Michaels to be Assistant Secretary of Energy for Environment, Safety and Health, a post he held from 1998 to 2001. At the Department of Energy, Michaels designed a program to compensate nuclear-weapons workers who became ill after exposure to radioactive and other toxic materials.  The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program has paid more than $4.5 billion to sick workers and their families.  
Leaving government at the beginning of the George W. Bush administration, Michaels became Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at George Washington University, where he worked until taking on the OSHA position in December 2009. 
Some conservatives opposed Obama’s nomination of Michaels, criticizing his 2008 book, Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health, because it accused large corporations, particularly those in the tobacco industry, of hiring scientists to speak out against scientific studies the corporations opposed. His detractors also objected to his position that gun violence is a public health problem. Nevertheless, the Senate confirmed his nomination in December 2009. 
A Democrat, Michaels has contributed $1,900 to Democratic causes and candidates, including $1,000 to the Democratic National Committee and $250 to the presidential campaign of Barack Obama. 
David Michaels, PhD (George Washington University)
Sarbanes-Oxley for Science (by David Michaels) (pdf)
Bookmark and Share