CSB chairman Carolyn Merritt told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies the agency's new budget proposal seeks increases of $393,000 for hiring new investigators, $250,000 for continuing and expanding the CSB safety video program and $250,000 to establish a small new safety studies office.
Merritt also noted the agency's current budget is 4 percent less than it was in 2000, after adjusting for inflation.
Merritt told the House panel the board has come a long way since she has been appointed president in August 2002. At that time, the CSB had issued a total of nine investigation reports, one safety study and 82 safety recommendations, of which only 38 had been closed successfully she noted. Almost 5 years later, the picture is dramatically different, she asserted, as the agency has issued “a total of 36 investigation reports, four safety studies and 436 safety recommendations,” of which 215 have been closed and anther 64 recommend safety actions are underway.
“Our last 5 years have been at least three times as productive as our first five,” Merritt stated in her prepared remarks. “We have accomplished this tripling of productivity on an annual budget that essentially remained flat for the entire 5-year period.”
But despite the CSB's successes, personnel shortage impedes the board to respond to some major chemical accidents occurring around the country, she said. An example of this was in Dec. 6, 2006, when a major propane explosion in Milwaukee killed three workers and injured 46 others. The board already had deployed its investigative team to another chemical plant explosion in Massachusetts so there was “no one left to staff or lead a credible investigative team.”
The proposal also calls for more funds to sustain and expand the CSB's new, experimental program of producing computer-animated safety videos based on its investigations, which Merritt boasted that it's had “more than 665,000 hits or downloads” in just over a year. She also cited more than 3,800 comments the agency received about the videos, including many pointing to widespread use in training and facility engineering.
“Each of these videos that we produce, at a budgeted cost of $35,000 each, represents an investment that can potentially prevent multiple tragic and costly accidents at workplaces around the country,” she said. She noted that even one major accident of the scale of the BP refinery disaster can cause billions of dollars in losses.
In addition, Merritt asked members of the panel to help “discontinue a burdensome and highly unusual appropriations rider that has existed since 2000,” which is establishing an inspector general (IG) for the CSB, currently filled by the Environmental Protection Agency. She emphasized that the CSB has had six consecutive clean financial audits and a steady mission progress.
“Since 2002, the IG’s program audits have not uncovered any significant deficiencies or made any significant recommendations, she said. “Now 5 years later, it is inefficient and burdensome to have an inspector general endlessly scrutinize and second-guess routine agency decisions.”