The current fiscal year is more than one-third over, but House and Senate conferees last week finally finished work on an omnibus appropriations bill to fund virtually all of the government's non-defense operations. The president signed the bill Feb. 20.
Although the president wanted to cut OSHA spending by $6.5 million this year, the Republican-controlled Congress granted OSHA a total budget this year of $453.3 million $9.8 million, or about two percent, more than OSHA spent last year.
NIOSH seems to have fewer friends than OSHA these days: its 2003 budget of $274.899 million is about $1 million less than last year's number, though Congress ended up appropriating $27 million more than the president requested.
MSHA fared best, winning a nine percent increase in its budget, for a total of $274.7 million in 2003. As with OSHA, the Senate had agreed to spend considerably more on MSHA, but the mining agency's final numbers exceeded even the higher Senate figure by almost $3 million.
Perhaps as a result of the Quecreek, Pa. mining incident, in which several miners almost lost their lives, Congress voted $10 million for a new program called, "mine mapping."
In previous years, when the House and Senate budget conference ended, OSHA's final appropriation was closer to the Senate's more generous figure. This time around, House and Senate agreed to split the difference, and OSHA ended up with $9 million more than the House wanted, and $9 million less than the Senate appropriated.
All of OSHA's major programs won modest increases in 2003, with the smallest, $.5 million, going to safety and health standards. In both absolute and percentage terms, the largest increase in new money went to federal compliance assistance programs: $2.6 million a 4 percent hike.
This year Congress appropriated $16.3 million more for OSHA, and $20 million more for MSHA than the president originally requested. The president has already given Congress his spending request for 2004. Given the numbers agreed to by Congress for this year, the president's request would now mean a $3 million cut to OSHA, and an $8 million reduction for MSHA.
Even if the president is somewhat unhappy with the 2003 budget, the criticism was muted. "The president is glad the Congress has finally finished its work on the 2003 spending bill," said a spokesperson. "It's kind of a broken process, but this late in the game the president is going to sign it."