OSHA's FY 2007 Budget Request: Significant or Status Quo?

As President George W. Bush unveiled his 2007 budget proposal last week and announced that the Department of Labor would receive a 4 percent cut reducing its budget from the 2006 level of $11.3 billion to $10.9 billion OSHA celebrated its 2.3 percent increase, which the agency said would help it increase federal enforcement, compliance assistance and safety and health statistics.

The new budget, according to OSHA, would allow the agency to develop a new occupational safety and health information system (OIS) as well as expand the outreach for Hispanic and other non-English speaking workers. But with inflation going at 3.4 percent and government increasing employees' salaries 3 percent each year, OSHA's budget increase raises one particular question: Will this "increase" be significant, irrelevant or detrimental?

Is OSHA's Budget Status Quo?

The question as to whether OSHA's FY 2007 budget is a "status-quo budget" or not has been raised by AFL-CIO Director of Safety and Health Peg Seminario not only this year, but also during last year's budgeting process.

"In reality, there has been no increase on the budget. It is a maintenance budget," she said. "They are just looking out for their employees and forgetting about the assisting workers by cutting out important training programs."

The Bush administration proposed, for a second year in a row, to cut the Susan Hardwood Worker training program, which provides worker training grants for unions and other non-profit organizations to conduct direct worker training. Attempts in previous years to cut funding for the program have been thwarted by the Senate.

Seminario said she believes that the allocation of such spending is uneven, in that much more is funneled into federal compliance assistance for employers and voluntary compliance and not enough is set aside for worker assistance and training.

"Today, the combined state and compliance programs is about $130 million," she said. "Worker outreach programs have received zero."

OSHA, on the other hand, said that the budget increase is significant and will help the agency maintain its balanced approach to workplace safety and health. An OSHA spokesperson said that the 2007 budget would allow the agency to maintain its current inspection level of 37,700 for the year and said the agency does not anticipate any program cuts.

A Look at Past Years

During the FY 2006 budget, OSHA received the same scrutiny and criticism by opponents, who remarked that the new budget would freeze enforcement programs and that a $2.8 million increase would actually represent a $6.7 million cut from the FY 2005 spending level.

According to information provided by the ACL-CIO, since 2001, the OSHA budget in real-dollar, inflation-adjusted terms has been cut by $14.5 million (3 percent), with the standards-setting and state enforcement programs taking major hits.

In an interview with OccupationalHazard.com, Richard Fairfax, OSHA's director of enforcement programs, said that until the hurricane season of 2005 struck, the agency was on target to exceed its enforcement goals of FY 2006.

Criticism of the budget is unnecessary, according to Ron Haskins from the Brookings Institute, as it shadows the true intentions of the people putting together the budget.

"In a year like this, it shows some endorsement of a program just to get a slight increase, even if that increase is less than the inflation rate," he said.

However, Haskins did acknowledge that the reality of inflation signifies that the increase will cause no visceral effect or improvement on OSHA's work.

"Increases of such size have no practical effect," he said.

To find out more about the proposed FY 2007 budget for OSHA, read "Bush Proposes FY 2007 Budget Increase for OSHA."

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