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One budget crisis avoided, another possibly on the way

April 21, 2011

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By most accounts, the passage of a budget bill funding the federal government for the rest of the current fiscal year avoided the catastrophe that would have been caused by a shutdown.

Such an event would have made a deep impact at OSHA. Plans (.pdf file) had been drawn up outlining which agency staff would have stayed on and which would have been sent home. Of the thousands employed at OSHA, only about 250 would have been working during the shutdown.

Generally speaking, the remaining staff would have been those responding to workplace fatalities or to complaints indicating employees are exposed to hazardous conditions that could cause death or serious injury. Compliance assistance, research into regulations and scheduled inspections among other activities all would have ceased. This would have been bad, and would have set both OSHA and employers back in their efforts to keep workers safe.

And it may still happen. The threatened government shutdown that was recently avoided came about because Congress repeatedly failed to pass a long-term budget solution for the full fiscal year. Even when the House and Senate were controlled by Democrats in early 2010, Congress didn’t pass it. (Democrats thought postponing a budget fight would help them in the November election. It didn’t.)

Considering the contentious fight between Republicans (who control the House) and Democrats (who control the Senate) in passing the full FY 2011 budget, and the drastically different FY 2012 budget plans the two sides are proposing, we may find ourselves nearing a shutdown for FY 2012.

I hope this isn’t the case, and that an agreement can be reached long before the threat of a shutdown occurs. But whether or not OSHA will stave off budget cuts for the next round – as it did in this round – remains to be seen.

The opinions expressed in "Washington Wire" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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