Cuts coming to OSHA? Maybe


These are tumultuous times for government program funding, and OSHA is no exception. Although cutting government spending could be a bad idea, with Republicans controlling the House and pushing for deficit reduction, cuts are probably going to happen anyway.

In fact, the White House already is planning for drastic reductions in spending. On Aug. 17, the Office of Management and Budget sent a memo (.pdf file) to the heads of all departments and agencies, providing guidance on 2013 budget requests. OMB requested agencies and departments to draft two scenarios – one in which funding was 5 percent less than their fiscal year 2011 appropriation, and one in which it was 10 percent less.

A 10 percent cut would set OSHA’s budget at about $502 million – lower than its 2009 budget. This certainly would put a crimp in the agency’s enforcement and standards development plans, and would represent a change in direction for the agency. In recent years, OSHA has been spared from budget cuts, but the current FY budget was held at the same level as FY 2010.

“Spending either 5 or 10 percent less in 2013 than we spent in 2011 on public safety, veterans’ services, law enforcement, anti-terrorism activity and education support will not solve our problems – it will only make them worse,” American Federation of Government Employees National President John Gage said in a press release.

However, a day after the memo was sent, OMB Director Jack Lew stressed that the 5 to 10 percent budget cuts for agencies may not necessarily happen.

“We do not believe in making across-the-board cuts,” Lew wrote in a blog post. “Rather, we believe that we should cut what is wasteful or not essential, and invest in what is critical to long-term growth and other priorities.”

So some agencies and departments may not see any decreases at all. Lew said some agencies or programs may even see an increase in funding.

I think it’s fair to say that OSHA will be forced to make some cuts to their programs and priorities, even if their overall budget increases. The question is: What would OSHA propose cutting, and what cuts will actually be passed?

OSHA has previously proposed eliminating funding for the Voluntary Protection Programs – will they try again? The agency has requested millions in funding for the development of new standards, most notably the Injury and Illness Prevention Program Standard – could these get the ax? Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) recently suggested scaling back enforcement funding and ending the popular Susan Harwood Training Grant Program – could it happen?

These are only a handful of possibilities. What do you think should get cut, and what do you think will get cut?

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

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