by Kaileigh Fagan
Despite a proposed $2.4 billion (19.8%) cut to the Department of Labor’s annual budget in President Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal, the lead U.S. workplace safety agencies – the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) – would see only small budgetary changes.
Under the proposed plan, OSHA would experience a modest $9.8 million funding decrease, which represents less than 2% of the agency’s FY17 budget of $552.8 million. Although the total budget decreases relatively little, the budget proposal’s details reflect the Trump administration’s agenda. For example, the request seeks to eliminate or significantly reduce a variety of training efforts that the administration deems ineffective, including the Susan B. Harwood training grant program and the Senior Community Service Employment Program. Eliminating those two programs alone will result in over $444 million in savings.
MSHA would get an increase
As for MSHA, the proposal actually increases its budget to $375.2 million – up $1.4 million from last year. However, as with OSHA, the specific allocation of funds reflects new priorities. The budget proposes eliminating about 42 positions, most of which involve the coal safety and health program. Overall, the budget proposal shifts about $3 million from coal to metal/non-metal enforcement.
Other safety agencies would see far more dramatic changes under the proposal. The budget cuts the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which falls under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), by a dramatic $138.5 million – roughly 40% of NIOSH’s current budget. That said, when compared to former President Barack Obama’s FY17 proposal of $213.6 million, President Trump’s $200 million allocation doesn’t seem nearly as drastic. If approved by Congress, the budget cuts could impact NIOSH’s ability to perform its key function–conducting research aimed at improving workplace safety and health.
Budget would entirely eliminate CSB
Most dramatically, as previously announced in Trump’s budget blueprint released earlier this year, the FY18 proposal would entirely eliminate the Chemical Safety Board (CSB), an independent agency responsible for investigating chemical accidents and making safety recommendations. The administration described CSB’s function as “largely duplicative of other Agency efforts,” but CSB Chairperson Vanessa Sutherland disagreed in a May 23 press release, stating that the agency’s actions have an “enormous effect on improving public safety.” The CSB also released a two-page document promoting its importance and responsibilities, as well as a video of its 2016 accomplishments.
Given the administration’s emphasis on deregulation and decentralization of government, the proposed budget cuts were not entirely unexpected. And, as with nearly all recent presidential budget proposals, this one will likely undergo significant changes before congressional approval. Regardless of what ultimately emerges from Congress, the proposed budget signals where the administration’s priorities lie.
Shift from enforcement to compliance assistance?
As expected, the new safety agency agendas may shift some energy from enforcement to compliance assistance. For example, BNA reports that OSHA would add 16 compliance assistance specialists to its payroll under the proposal (it now employs 44). Federal compliance assistance overall would increase by about $4 million. Likewise, the new OSHA would like to increase – by more than 30% – the number of approvals or renewals for sites to participate in the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP). Under VPP, companies meet certain goals in exchange for getting off the list of sites subject to programmed inspections.