NIOSH currently is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is inside DHHS. The NIOSH director reports directly to the head of CDC, but would no longer do so under the reorganization plan.
The letter contends that CDC's reorganization plan failed to recognize its implications for the Department of Labor (DOL).
Reorganization supporters, including NIOSH's current director John Howard, counter that the plan will reduce duplication inside CDC and free up more resources for research.
The July 8 letter to DHHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, signed by three former OSHA administrators, argues that the process of establishing and enforcing workplace standards is always contentious and that a solid scientific basis for rulemaking helps narrow the gap between opposing points of view.
"Moving NIOSH lower in the departmental structure and obscuring the distinct identity and special role of NIOSH would markedly diminish its effectiveness in helping OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) bring science-based considerations to the rulemaking process."
Since the NIOSH reorganization plan was announced earlier this year it has aroused the opposition of labor officials, scientists, academics and CDC officials. Opponents argued that the new arrangement violates the intent the OSH Act and will diminish the resources and the government's commitment to researching occupational health and safety. Until now, there has been relatively little comment about the reorganization's implications for OSHA and MSHA rulemaking.
The letter was signed by former assistant secretaries of Labor for OSHA Eula Bingham (1977-1981), Gerard Scannell (1989-1992) and Joe Dear (1993-1997. Also signing the letter were J. Davitt McAtteer, a former Assistant Secretary of Labor for MSHA and David Michaels, former Assistant Secretary of Energy for Environment, Safety and Health.