OSHA's 2004 Budget: Compliance Assistance Wins Biggest Increase

President George W. Bush is proposing to spend $450 million on OSHA in fiscal year 2004, including more than $7 million in new dollars for federal compliance assistance a 12 percent increase in this program when compared to the president's request for this year.

Total OSHA spending would rise three percent, or $13 million, but this increase may look a little smaller upon closer inspection.

The context of the president's 2004 fiscal year spending proposal, released Feb. 3, differs from budget requests of other years.

One important difference from previous years is that the president's proposal cannot be compared to an actual budget because OSHA does not have one. Congress has been unable to agree on appropriations for the current fiscal year that began more than four months ago. When the president's proposed spending on OSHA is compared to 2002, OSHA's last approved budget, growth in spending shrinks to just $7 million, or a little over 1.5 percent.

By another measure, the president's proposal could represent a $12 million cut in OSHA spending. The House and Senate are currently working out their differences on the fiscal year 2003 budget, but the Senate has already appropriated $462 million for OSHA. In past years OSHA's final budget has been close to the Senate's number, although what will happen this year is far from certain.

Highlights of the President's OSHA budget request for 2004, when compared to his 2003 spending proposal:

  • More than $2.2 million in new funding is earmarked for outreach to Spanish and other non-English speaking workers, the first time OSHA's budget includes additional funding for this purpose;
  • Federal enforcement will rise by $4.2 million, or 3.8 percent, allowing OSHA to hire three more compliance officers, the only addition to the agency's federal workforce the president's proposal allows;
  • For the first time OSHA will have money $750,000 dedicated to emergency preparedness;
  • Spending on Safety and Health Statistics will decline by $3.3 million, the only program being cut.

OSHA Administrator John Henshaw explained in a press briefing that the reduction in money for statistics is due largely to the completion of the agency's upgrade of data collection systems.

Henshaw was also asked how the money for emergency preparedness would be spent. "By providing the right tools, guidance, training and information that people need when they respond to emergencies, like the World Trade Center or anthrax," he replied.

In comparison with other domestic programs in the president's budget request, OSHA fared rather well this year.

For example, discretionary spending in the Labor Department as a whole would not increase at all next year under the president's proposal. Aside from national defense, homeland security and foreign aid, government spending is to grow by only one-half of 1 percent from 2002 levels.

Faced with a swelling budget deficit, the fight against terrorism, possible war with Iraq and a faltering economy, the central budget document states the federal government "must restrain growth in any spending not directly associated with the physical security of the nation."

Even though Republicans control both houses of Congress, the president's proposal is only the beginning of what promises to be a long season of difficult negotiations. For while there are many novel features to the 2004 budget situation, one fact of life in Washington remains the same: when it comes to the federal budget, Congress makes the final decisions.

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