AIHA: NIOSH Study Needed

In a letter to Sen. Edward Kennedy, American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) President Frank Renshaw calls for Congress to request a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study to determine whether the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) should remain within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“A GAO study is needed because of the ongoing changes that have taken place within NIOSH and CDC over the past 3 years and the future challenges to both CDC and NIOSH,” Renshaw wrote. In addition to Kennedy – who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee – Renshaw sent copies of the letter to the chairs and ranking members of several Senate and House committees and subcommittees with appropriations control and jurisdiction over NIOSH.

In the letter, Renshaw expressed concern that NIOSH in 2008 “is facing a budget crisis as its research funding remains flat and an ever-increasing amount of the budget flows back to CDC for administrative costs.”

Renshaw added that due to the increased national focus on public health requirements, “CDC may not have adequate resources to fulfill the expected challenges facing our country, as well as overseeing NIOSH and its research priorities.” As an example, Renshaw noted that “NIOSH has had to find several million dollars from its existing budget each of the past 3 years to study the health and safety impacts of nanotechnology because no direct research funding has been appropriated.”

Renshaw also emphasized the importance of NIOSH, which “is the only federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness.”

“AIHA's nearly 12,000 members rely on NIOSH research and training in our efforts to protect workers and their families,” Renshaw wrote. “The future of NIOSH is of the utmost importance to AIHA, but more importantly to worker health and safety.”

AIHA Suggests Moving NIOSH to NIH

In 2004, the Bush administration announced that it was planning to reorganize CDC into four "coordinating centers," one of which would have housed NIOSH.

Critics, though, worried that the reorganization plan would bury NIOSH under layers of new bureaucracy, and Congress in 2005 decided to keep NIOSH's relationship to CDC – NIOSH reports directly to CDC Director Julie Gerberding – the same.

Although NIOSH maintains its budget as a separate line item and does not participate in coordinating center meetings, Renshaw characterized Congress' decision as "a short-term fix for NIOSH."

Some have suggested moving NIOSH into the Department of Labor – which houses OSHA and MSHA. Such a move, Renshaw wrote, would allow NIOSH to “more easily interact” with OSHA and MSHA, which “most directly receive the advice and research from NIOSH.”

However, according to Renshaw, AIHA believes NIOSH should be housed within the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH is an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, which also houses CDC.

“NIH is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting research that leads the way in improving people's health and saving lives,” Renshaw wrote. “Disease prevention research within NIH is of the utmost importance to the millions of workers at risk in this country. NIH already has 27 institutes and centers under its umbrella and adding NIOSH would allow NIOSH research to take advantage of the many researchers used by NIH.”

Study Should Look at “Pros and Cons”

While Renshaw asserted that “moving NIOSH to NIH has merit,” he also said that “we are not sure anyone has thoroughly looked at what impact a possible move could, or would, have on occupational health and safety.”

“A GAO study could collect the information necessary to determine whether or not NIOSH would be best-suited in the Department of Labor, NIH or maintain its current organizational structure within CDC,” Renshaw wrote. “A study of this issue should look at the 'pros and cons' of these alternatives and would provide NIOSH, CDC, stakeholders and others with the information and data on how best to address the issues of occupational health and safety in today's workplace.”

The full text of the AIHA letter is available on the AIHA Web site under “Government Affairs.”

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