The UMWA is calling for MSHA to conduct public hearings after accidents – which would represent a significant change in agency procedure. A stated reason for the call is that public hearings will provide MSHA with subpoena power from the outset of every investigation. By law, MSHA has subpoena power only when it conducts public hearings.
Currently, most accident investigations are conducted by MSHA at the mine site with a view toward determining and verifying all material facts before information is released to the public or media. To date the agency has obviously been mindful of the fact that information in fragments may be inaccurate and misleading.
In the traditional investigation format, MSHA investigators are often joined by state investigators. Investigators typically get broad cooperation from mine operators who are as anxious as the government to ascertain accident causes. There have been some, but not many, public hearings after accidents.
Those who argue that investigations are not sufficiently effective in the traditional form insist that MSHA needs the subpoena power that comes with public hearings to ensure the availability of every document and every witness. However, with the possible exception of the few instances where public hearings were convened, there is no indication that MSHA is not obtaining all the information it needs in each investigation.