The budget of the nation''s top job safety agency will be cut by almost $6 million according to President George W. Bush''s fiscal year 2003 budget request, released Monday in Washington, DC.
If the president gets his way, 83 full-time equivalents (FTE) will lose their jobs next year, as OSHA''s total spending falls to $437 million, approximately 1 percent less than the 2002 number. However, despite the cuts, OSHA Administrator John Henshaw promised that OSHA would perform more inspections and issue more standards next year.
Cutting OSHA''s budget may not sound like a ringing endorsement of the agency''s mission, but given that the president''s request calls for reductions of nearly 10 percent in discretionary spending at the Department of Labor as a whole, it appears as though OSHA could have fared a lot worse.
OSHA did as well as it did primarily because occupational safety is seen by the administration to be a critical part of "homeland security," a key priority for the Republican administration. OSHA has been heavily engaged in the World Trade Center (WTC) recovery effort as well as in responding to the anthrax scare that gripped the nation late last year.
At a press briefing on the president''s budget, Henshaw explained the three priorities driving the president''s numbers:
- National Security, or winning the war on terrorism;
- Homeland Security; and
- Economic Security
"Workplace safety and health is a crucial component of homeland security and we will continue to focus much of our efforts in ensuring that employers and workers have the tools and guidance they need to be safe at their jobs," said Henshaw.
Congress needs to approve the president''s spending proposals, and the final numbers agreed to could be quite different from those released yesterday. Work on the 2002 budget was completed just a few weeks ago, and Congress added almost $18 million to the president''s "flat-line" budget request for OSHA, with the biggest increase going to OSHA enforcement efforts.
In 2003, 64 of the 83 eliminated FTEs are to be in OSHA''s enforcement division. Henshaw was asked at yesterday''s briefing how the agency could perform more inspections with fewer workers, particularly in light of how many enforcement officers from around the nation who have been pulled away from their normal duties to aid the WTC effort.
Henshaw explained that OSHA would have the same number of compliance officers (COs) next year as it does this year. "The reduction [in FTEs] is the result of cutting middle management, cutting layers of support staff and other kinds of overhead," he said.
In addition, he said OSHA could perform 1,300 additional inspections next year with the same number of COs "by streamlining the process."
Despite the emphasis placed by the administration on improving workplace safety compliance through education, outreach and compliance assistance, there is only a modest, $1.5 million increase in money for federal compliance assistance, a rise of less than 3 percent. OSHA projects this will enable the agency to make 500 additional consultation visits next year, out of a total 32,500.
Spending on training grants took a big hit in the budget request, a $7.2 million reduction from the $11.2 million spent this year. Henshaw was asked if the big cuts in training undercut the administration''s stated commitment to improving education and outreach.
"This is a war-time budget," Henshaw replied. "We are going to make some critical decisions and search harder for solutions." In addition, he pointed to budget increases in past years, or "resources that have not yet come to bear."
Despite a nearly 10 percent cut in the budget for safety and health rulemaking, OSHA projects promulgating four standards in fiscal year 2003, two more than this year.
At an earlier briefing on the Department of Labor''s budget, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao was asked when she would release her long-promised "comprehensive approach" to ergonomics.
"I am hopeful we will come out with our ergonomics proposal very soon," she said.
By Jim Nash