NIOSH Director Says Reorganization Is Proceeding

November is shaping up to be a critical period in the controversial plan to place the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) within a "coordinating center" along with several other agencies belonging to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Congress is expected to complete work soon on an omnibus appropriations bill that could determine NIOSH's status. Meanwhile, NIOSH Director John Howard said in an interview that the reorganization is moving forward and that the final structure of NIOSH's new coordinating center should be determined by Nov. 30.

In a possible effort to mollify reorganization critics, Howard said he has been told that the components in NIOSH's coordinating center will differ from other centers within CDC. "Two of the agencies in our center, including NIOSH, are statutory creations, so our center will be different, but it's not clear now," he said.

Fearing the reorganization would lead to a reduction in NIOSH clout and resources, industry and labor stakeholders united to oppose the plan and convinced a Senate appropriations subcommittee to insert language that appears to prevent CDC from altering NIOSH's current independent status.

However, the full Senate has not adopted the 2005 appropriations bill and the House has not even considered the subcommittee's report language concerning NIOSH.

"Next week will be the key to this," commented Aaron Trippler, director of government affairs for the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA). "When Congress comes back next week they must pass an omnibus spending bill that will include CDC appropriations."

Trippler believes Congress is likely to drop the Senate subcommittee language and support the administration's reorganization plans. If that happens, he thinks the new Congress that takes over next year will regard the reorganization as a "done deal."

"I think the only chance we have [to stop the reorganization] is the Senate appropriations language this year," he added.

Asked when the entire reorganization process will be completed, Howard replied, "I don't think there is a completion date. Other phases of the reorganization may take place in March or April it will be an ongoing process without a deadline."

Howard explained that reorganizing an agency the size of CDC, with several thousand employees and a $7 billion budget, is a complex undertaking.

Stakeholders expressed their opposition to the NIOSH reorganization in an August meeting with CDC Director Julie Gerberding. After the meeting, Gerberding wrote a letter that listed a number of decisions taken in response to stakeholder concerns.

The letter includes promises that NIOSH headquarters will remain in Washington, D.C. and that "CDC's new organizational chart will make visible the importance of workers and employers as customers and partners."

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