CDC Proposes Staff Cuts For NIOSH

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have decided to eliminate more than 13 percent of the maximum number of full-time positions (FTEs) at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) next year.

The cuts, contained in the administration's 2006 proposed NIOSH budget, reduce the agency's maximum number of FTEs from 1435 to 1246. Despite the proposed work force reduction, NIOSH's 2006 proposed budget of $285.9 million is essentially unchanged from this year's $286 million.

The relationship between NIOSH and CDC has become a subject of controversy ever since the administration proposed a reorganization plan that critics charged would have undermined NIOSH's independent status. Last year, Congress attached a rider to an appropriation bill funding CDC that prevented the administration's reorganization from affecting NIOSH. As a result, unlike other agencies within CDC, NIOSH Director John Howard continues to report directly to the director of CDC. It remains to be seen, however, whether Congress will keep the rider on the 2006 appropriation bill.

Two of the most prominent workplace health and safety professional organizations, the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) and the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), have suggested that NIOSH should not be part of CDC.

"CDC does not have the capability to effectively oversee both the increased national focus on public health requirements and the numerous occupational health challenges this country is facing," according to Donna Doganiero, president of the American Industrial Hygiene Association. Doganiero's comments were contained in a March 31 letter to Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio. Regula chairs the House appropriations subcommittee for the Department of Health and Human Services, which contains CDC.

In a March 8 letter to CDC Director Julie Gerberding, ASSE President Gene Barfield criticized CDC's 2004 report on the state of CDC for failing to devote appropriate attention to workplace safety and health issues. Barfield enclosed with his letter ASSE's position statement calling on Congress to consider relocating NIOSH as an independent agency within the Department of Labor.

Currently NIOSH has only 1,300 FTEs, far below its 1,435 ceiling, according to a NIOSH spokesperson. Even so, the new ceiling would mean eliminating more than 50 NIOSH positions. In addition, the lower CDC ceiling would prevent NIOSH from having the flexibility to hire more staff should increased funding become available. In the past, Congress has regularly appropriated more money to NIOSH than the Bush administration has proposed.

It is not clear which positions would be eliminated should CDC's proposal be accepted. A spokesperson indicated that since 2002, NIOSH has already lost 50 "business services support" positions to CDC.

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