Details of the president's budget were released at a series of press conferences on Feb. 2 in Washington, D.C.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) fared somewhat better than OSHA, winning a proposed increase of $6.8 million, or 2.5 percent. For the first time since assuming office, the Bush administration is proposing to increase the budget of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health: from the current $277 million to $279 million.
Although the increase in OSHA spending may not match the rate of inflation, the agency will add two new full-time positions, according to OSHA Administrator John Henshaw. Speaking at OSHA's budget briefing, Henshaw explained that the termination of a number of one-year programs would free up the money for the new hires, who will work in compliance assistance programs.
The budget proposal also includes an additional $2 million for OSHA's Whistleblower program.
"Whistleblower is an issue we hold very sacred," Henshaw declared. He pointed out that OSHA must currently administer a total of 14 whistleblower statutes. While a majority of such claims fall under the original OSH Act, over time the agency's workload has grown, most recently with the addition of financial accounting issues that fall under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
"We're going to go over the entire 14 statutes," said Henshaw, "to make sure we meet our deadlines, deal with the complaints on time, train our folks to make sure they have additional staff if necessary… to make sure we can execute all 14 statutes." Details of how the additional money would be spent have not yet been determined, he added, but Sarbanes-Oxley may require additional education of OSHA personnel on financial issues.
Proposed spending in federal OSHA's major program areas for 2005 when compared to 2004:
- Safety and health standards up 1.2;
- Enforcement up 3.0 percent;
- Compliance assistance up 6.5 percent.
As in previous years, the administration is seeking to cut spending on OSHA training grants, from $10.5 million to $4 million. Defending the move, Henshaw argued, as he as before, that by dropping person-to-person education and using new technologies the agency could train more workers for less money.
In the recently enacted 2004 budget, Congress once again rejected OSHA's proposal to cut training programs, and restored most of the training grant money.
A reporter asked Henshaw if had any reason to believe this year would be different, and OSHA would succeed in convincing Congress to cut spending on training grants.
"There is one reason," Henshaw replied. "Last year we directed $4 million [of training funds] to these material training technologies, so we're beginning to see the results for that now. Whether we'll have enough data to persuade those making the decision, I don't know."