Bush Requests $501.7 Million for OSHA FY 2009 Funding

Surpassing the $500 million mark for the first time, President George W. Bush’s proposed 2009 OSHA budget aims to maintain the agency’s current program activities as well as provide increases for federal enforcement and compliance assistance efforts.

At a Feb. 4 press briefing in Washington, D.C., OSHA Assistant Secretary for Labor Edwin Foulke Jr. announced that President Bush requested that the agency receive an increase of nearly $15.7 million over the fiscal year 2008 level, for a total of $501.7 million for the next fiscal year.

“This budget reinforces our balanced approach to employee safety and health – an approach that works,” Foulke stated, explaining that OSHA always maintained a “balanced approach consisting of aggressive enforcement, cooperative programs, outreach, education and compliance assistance” since 2001.

Funding Increases for Enforcement, Compliance Programs

According to Foulke, the agency will devote $11.3 million to support enforcement programs and $5.2 million to provide compliance assistance to employers and employees, placing a special emphasis on small businesses.

Pointing out that enforcement was the “largest component” of the agency’s budget, Foulke said that he is projecting 37,700 inspections for the following year. In addition, the proposed budget request would provide for 2,165 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees, an increase of 47 from the previous year, he said.

At the briefing, a reporter asked Foulke if the agency planned to request extra money to examine the injury and illness data given by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) each year, given that recent studies question the accuracy of the numbers. Foulke replied that OSHA was working very closely with BLS to ensure that the data is “the best available” and is “as accurate as possible.”

Foulke spent the better part of his briefing outlining the agency’s accomplishments from 2001 to 2007. On the emergency response front, OSHA was instrumental in the responding to the World Trade enter and anthrax arracks by providing technical guidance to help protect emergency response personnel, according to Foulke. He also pointed out that agency published several rulemakings, exceeded inspection goals and expanded its cooperative and compliance assistance programs.

“As we look at the record, it is clear that OSHA’s combination of strategies has yielded the lowest workplace fatality and serious injury and illness rates on record,” Foulke said. He noted that the workplace fatality rate dropped 9 percent since 2001, with the fatality rates among Hispanic employees falling 21 percent since that same time period.

Kennedy: Bush Budget is “Misguided”

However, not everyone was pleased with the budget numbers. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., called President Bush’s budget “misguided” and one that “does not make the safety of American workers the high priority that it should be.”

Kennedy criticized President Bush for proposing to remove the Susan Hardwood training grants once again this year, which he said are vital for worker safety and health training. He also noted that the proposed budget provides insufficient funds to finalize and enforce regulatory measures that protect workers from the pandemic flu threat and the toxic chemical diacetyl.

“The President fumbled yet another opportunity to put forward a budget that demonstrates real understanding of the challenges our country is facing today and that provides real relief for hardworking Americans,” Kennedy said. “I look forward to next year and a Democratic President whose budget will honor our country’s true priorities.”

The agency, however, emphasized that it will pursue an “aggressive regulatory program” in fiscal year 2009. Foulke said that OSHA plans to publish four proposed rules and four final rules in 2008 and will continue to develop non-regulatory guidance, which vary from quick reference products to 100-page documents that address occupational safety and health topics in detail.

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