AIHA Calls on Congress to Support a GAO Study on NIOSH

The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) recently sent letters to several members of Congress soliciting their support for Congress to request a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study of the pros and cons of whether the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) should remain within the organizational structure of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The letters, sent to the chairman and ranking minority leaders of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; the Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety; the House Committee on Education and Labor; and the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections suggested that the time is right for an in-depth look at the institute.

AIHA suggests that NIOSH might remain within the Department of Health and Human Services but be moved to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting research that leads the way in improving people’s health and saving lives. Disease prevention research within NIH is of the utmost importance to the millions of workers at risk in this country.

“While AIHA believes moving NIOSH to NIH has merit, we are not sure anyone has thoroughly looked at what impact a possible move could, or would, have on occupational health and safety,” said AIHA President Lindsay E. Booher, CIH, CSP. “Because of the ongoing changes that have taken place within NIOSH and CDC the past several years and the future challenges they may face, a GAO study is really needed.”

In 2004, CDC announced it was planning to reorganize CDC’s programs into four “coordinating centers” as part of the agency’s Futures Initiative. Under the plan, NIOSH would have been placed under one of these centers. As a result of tremendous opposition, Congress recommended that CDC “maintain the status quo with respect to the direct reporting relationship of the NIOSH director to the CDC director,” and that “CDC make no changes to NIOSH’s current operating procedures and organizational structure.”

Again, in 2009, the NIOSH budget is facing a crisis. NIOSH research funding remains flat and an ever-increasing part of the budget flows back to CDC for administrative costs. In addition, NIOSH is without a permanent director, as Dr. John Howard was not reappointed to another term last July. Many are not aware that NIOSH is the only federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness.

Aaron Trippler, AIHA director of Government Affairs, says that “with a new administration, this is the perfect time to take a serious look at this question. There are undoubtedly other stakeholders who feel NIOSH is being shortchanged, so why not direct the GAO to talk to those who benefit from NIOSH to see what they think?”

The full text of the AIHA letter is available at http://www.aiha.org under “Government Affairs.”

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