Congress May Bar NIOSH Reorganization

Senate and House conferees working on the 2004 omnibus appropriations bill agreed to language that appears to block at least part of the controversial decision altering where the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) fits within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The conferees stated they "concur in the directives in the Senate report regarding the NIOSH reporting relationship with the director of CDC, their operating procedures and organizational structure."

The "Senate report" refers to the Senate Appropriations Committee report, approved earlier, which directed CDC to "maintain the status quo" with respect to the direct reporting relationship of the NIOSH director to the CDC director. The Senate committee further directed CDC not to use the reorganization to make extraordinary changes to NIOSH's:

  • Operating procedures;
  • Organizational structure;
  • Funds;
  • Personnel.

While Congress is still working on the huge spending bill that will fund most of the federal government for the coming year, the measure is likely to become law sometime next week and the text pertaining to NIOSH is not expected to change.

CDC spokesperson Kathy Harben declined to respond directly when asked if the language would alter the NIOSH reorganization plan. "CDC will comply with the conferees language," she said. "We will continue our dialogue with Congress, the administration and NIOSH stakeholders to implement the Congress's directions in a way that will emphasize the importance we place on worker safety and health."

Harben confirmed that while the omnibus bill won't become law until next week, "We don't expect to see a change in this language."

Opponents of NIOSH reorganization argue that the plan would "bury" the institute within CDC, as the NIOSH director would no longer report directly to the director of CDC. Critics also worried that if NIOSH lost its current semi-autonomous status within CDC, research into occupational health and safety would suffer a loss of resources and stature.

Unlike Harben, Gene Barfield, president of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), a strong critic of NIOSH reorganization, stated the conferees' language means CDC must reverse course on NIOSH reorganization.

"The language adopted by the Senate, supported by House and Senate conferees, should be seen clearly as a victory for NIOSH and stakeholders," declared Barfield. "But much depends on the intent of CDC and NIOSH leaders in interpreting that language."

Barfield said ASSE believes the language requires "the reversal of organizational changes that have already been made" and promised ASSE will work diligently to ensure Congressional leaders monitor the CDC's compliance with Congress's intent.

The conferees accepted the Senate committee's report except for two possibly important points: the conferees made no explicit mention of the Senate committee's direction that NIOSH lose no funds or personnel to other components of CDC.

It is not clear how this omission will be interpreted by CDC, Congress and NIOSH stakeholders.

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