OSHA May Lose 94 Full Time Positions

For the first time in years OSHA is\r\nfacing a budget request with only a nominal increase in spending --\r\nand the potential loss of scores of positions.

In an early sign of how President Bush''s OSHA policy differs from that of his predecessor, for the first time in years the agency is facing a budget request with only a nominal increase in spending -- and the potential loss of scores of positions.

The president has proposed spending $425.8 million on OSHA in fiscal year 2002, up .4 million from 2001.

Congress has the power to tweak the numbers, although in recent years OSHA''s final budget has differed little from the executive branch''s request, even with a Democrat in the White House and a Republican-controlled Congress.

With Republicans in charge everywhere this year, it stands to reason that OSHA''s final budget will closely resemble the president''s request.

Given George W. Bush''s campaign rhetoric, it should come as no surprise that OSHA is now looking at a tighter budget. But embedded in the fine print of the president''s proposal are a couple of surprises.

Surprise number one: despite a slight increase from $425.4 million this year, to $425.8 million next year, because of inflation and salary increases the president''s proposed budget anticipates a reduction-- -- through attrition -- of 94 full-time employees from the agency''s current 2,386 total workforce.

Surprise number two: during his campaign for president, candidate Bush argued that OSHA should emphasize compliance assistance as opposed to inspection-driven enforcement, a view widely shared by Republicans on Capitol Hill and recently reiterated by Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao.

But the new administration''s proposed budget tells a different story of program priorities.

In percentage terms as well as in the total number of new dollars, the largest increase in the president''s budget request goes to federal enforcement, which is to increase $3 million or 1.9 percent, from $151.8 million to 154.8 million.

Federal compliance assistance, on the other hand, is slated to rise only $1.4 million to $57.2 million, while state consultation grant funding is frozen at $48.8 million. According to these budget numbers, it appears as though the president is only proposing a 1.2 percent increase in total compliance assistance spending.

An OSHA spokesperson confirmed the accuracy of this analysis, with one caveat: a $20 million budget item called "technical support" is used for both enforcement and compliance assistance, so in theory the administration could re-juggle its priorities within this category.

In previous years Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., has succeeded in attaching an amendment to OSHA''s appropriations bill requiring the agency to spend as much new money on compliance assistance as it does on its enforcement effort. It remains to be seen if Enzi will continue this policy now that a Republican is in the White House.

At a press briefing last Monday, acting OSHA administrator Davis Layne said nearly all the losses in personnel would come from two areas: management of the agency and reinvention of government. There will be no cuts in full-time employees from OSHA''s enforcement arm and a few losses in safety and health standards, according to Layne.

It is not yet clear whether the slight increase in compliance assistance money will be sufficient to avoid losses in full time positions there.

Perhaps one additional surprise is how well OSHA fared in the battle for resources, given its lack of an administrator and its recent humiliation on the ergonomics standard. OSHA''s budget was up slightly, while at the Department of Labor (DOL) as a whole discretionary spending was cut five percent.

"The most important feature of this budget for working families is the major reduction in tax rates that benefits all Americans," said Chao at a press briefing last week.

Chao asserted that the department''s "first responsibility" is to protect workers and enforce the law. This statement, when seen in the light of OSHA''s slight budget increase despite cuts at DOL, suggests yet another possible surprise: Chao may turn out to be something of a champion for OSHA within the Bush administration.

by James Nash

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