The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) talks the talk, but does the agency walk the walk? Not according to the most recent budget numbers.
Since coming to Washington, both Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao and OSHA Administrator John Henshaw emphasized outreach and compliance assistance over traditional enforcement as the way to achieve "more bang for the buck" in safety enforcement.
But in the administration''s 2002 fiscal year budget request, federal enforcement won the largest increase in new money, up $3 million over the $151.8 million spent in 2001. This was tops both in percentage terms as well as total new dollars in a total OSHA budget request that was almost unchanged over last year.
While asking for more enforcement money, this year the administration requested less for compliance assistance programs than was spent in 2001, the last budget of the Clinton era.
Despite the administration''s low-ball request, Congress ended up approving a modest increase in compliance assistance spending: House and Senate conferees agreed to increase the 2001 figure of $116.2 million to almost $121 million.
But, perhaps taking the lead from the administration, lawmakers were even more generous with enforcement, where they approved an increase of almost $10 million.
These spending priorities provoked a rare moment of criticism of the Bush administration by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) at its annual press briefing, held last month in Washington, DC.
"We agree with most of what the administration has done so far," said Pat Cleary, NAM''s senior vice president for human resource policy, when asked about the numbers. "But we think clearly more money needs to be shifted toward compliance assistance. This is an agency that spends three dollars on enforcement for every dollar on compliance."
In past years, Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., won approval of an amendment to OSHA appropriation bills requiring new money to be split evenly between enforcement and compliance assistance. Not this year.
Enzi used to chair the Senate''s OSHA oversight committee, now that Democrats are in control he is the panel''s ranking member.
According to an Enzi spokesperson, the senator wanted to give the new administration an opportunity to present its budget priorities, get an OSHA administrator in place and implement its commitment to focusing on compliance versus an enforcement monopoly approach.
"Senator Enzi plans to continue his ongoing work with OSHA to accomplish this goal," the spokesperson said, "and looks forward to the 2003 budget reflecting this priority on preventing workplace injuries."
by James Nash