- U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta has resigned, President Donald Trump told reporters during a press briefing Friday morning, according to a White House press pool report. Patrick Pizzella, the current deputy at the U.S. Department of Labor, will be acting secretary, Trump told reporters during a later press conference.
- Acosta was embroiled in controversy over the handling of a 2008 case that involved alleged sex offender Jeffrey Epstein during Acosta's time as a federal prosecutor. In February, a federal judge ruled that a plea agreement struck between Epstein and U.S. attorneys — including Acosta — violated the rights of the victims of Epstein's alleged sexual abuse. Controversy over the deal was renewed earlier this week after Epstein was arrested and later charged on July 8 with sex trafficking of minors.
- At the Friday briefing, Acosta told reporters that the decision to resign was his own. "I do not think it is right and fair for this administration's Labor Department to have Epstein as a focus rather than the incredible economy that we have today. And so I called the president this morning. I told him that I thought the right thing was to step aside," he said.
Acosta held a press conference Wednesday in which he defended the agreement he and other attorneys struck with Epstein's attorneys in 2008, following news of Epstein's indictment this week. Acosta said at the time that he had the support of both Trump and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who had reportedly been at odds with Acosta. A report by Bloomberg Law cited department officials who said that Mulvaney had "seized" the DOL's rulemaking process out of frustration with the pace of its deregulation activities. Acosta did not indicate Wednesday that he would step down from his role.
The leadership change announced Friday comes as HR departments await an update on DOL regulatory activities, ranging from a proposed update to the Fair Labor Standards Act's overtime rule to changes to the agency's apprenticeship program approval process. Acosta led those activities following his 2017 confirmation to the DOL's top spot. But questions about the now-former secretary's past work surfaced in Nov. 2018, due in part to an investigative report by The Miami Herald. The report led to calls by Democratic lawmakers for an investigation into Acosta's role in the Epstein plea deal.
Pizzella now enters the acting secretary role after years of government appointments under the administrations of former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. Prior to being sworn in as deputy labor secretary in April 2018, Pizzella served as a member of the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) under Obama in 2013. He was later moved to acting FLRA Chairman by Trump in 2017. From 2001 to 2009, Pizzella was the assistant secretary of labor for administration and management under Bush.
The new acting secretary has shown he is "committed to getting his rules done by the end of the year," Michael Lotito, shareholder and co-chair of the Workforce Policy Institute at Littler Mendelson, told HR Dive in an interview. Lotito called Pizzella a "collaborative guy" and an "old Washington hand" with a good grasp on labor issues.
The clock is now ticking for various DOL initiatives. Some of the public comment periods for those regulations have recently ended, including one for the department's overtime rule, which ended in May. But DOL must move fast on the overtime rule and other proposals in order for them to be enacted prior to the upcoming election season, one former DOL official previously told HR Dive.