During his campaign for president, George W. Bush argued that OSHA should emphasize compliance assistance as opposed to inspection-driven enforcement, a view widely-shared by Republicans on Capitol Hill and recently reiterated by Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.
But the new administration''s proposed budget tells a different story of program priorities.
In percentage terms as well as the total number of new dollars, the largest increase in the president''s budget request goes to federal enforcement, which is to increase 1.9 percent, from $151.8 million to $154.8 million.
Federal compliance assistance, on the other hand, is slated to rise only $1.4 million, while state consultation grand funding is frozen at $48.8 million.
If these two budget categories are grouped together, the president is only proposing a 1.2 percent increase in total compliance assistance spending.
An OSHA spokesperson confirmed the accuracy of this analysis, with one caveat: a $20 million budget item called "technical support" is used for both enforcement and compliance assistance, so in theory the administration could re-juggle its priorities within this category.
The total request for OSHA funding in fiscal year 2002 differs little from the total budget in 2001: an incremental increase from $425.4 million this year to $425.8 million next year.
Despite the lack of an OSHA administrator, the agency fared well when compared to the Department of Labor as a whole, where discretionary spending was cut five percent.
"The most important feature of this budget for working families is the major reduction in tax rates that benefits all Americans," said Chao at a press conference Monday.
Chao asserted that the department''s "first responsibility" is to protect workers and enforce the law.
But she also said "shifting the balance to more and better compliance assistance is just good business" because doing this could help prevent injuries before they happen.
Despite the nominal increase in total funding for OSHA, because of inflation and salary increases, the president''s proposed budget anticipates a reduction -- through attrition -- of 94 full-time employees from the agency''s current 2,386 total workforce.
At a separate press briefing, acting OSHA Administrator Davis Layne said nearly all the losses in personnel would come from two areas: management of the agency and reinvention of government.
There will be no cuts in full-time employees from OSHA''s enforcement arm and a few losses in safety and health standards, according to Layne.
by James Nash