Confined Space
News and Commentary on Workplace Health & Safety, Labor and Politics

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Opposition To NIOSH Reorganization Growing

Opposition to CDC's proposed reorganization of NIOSH is rising and has come to national attention with an article in the Los Angeles Times. The Times reported on a letter from four former heads of NIOSH -- Marcus M. Key, Anthony Robbins, J. Donald Millar and Linda Rosenstock -- to Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson expressing "great concern" with the reorganization that I wrote about last May. Key and Millar served under Republican administrations.
To downgrade NIOSH and blur its mission by combining key functions with other CDC programs will erode its independence and visibility and weaken the scientific contribution that has long benefited American workers and employers
The reorganization would put NIOSH into the Coordinating Center for Environmental Health, which includes the National Center for Environmental Health, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

Thompson also received a letter from former Assistant Secretaries of Labor for OSHA, Dr. Eula Bingham, Gerald Scannell and Joe Dear, as well as former MSHA Director J. Davitt McAtteer and Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Energy for Environment, Safety and Health. Scannell served under the first Bush and Bingham under Jimmy Carter. The others served in the Clinton administration.

They asked Thompson to suspend the reorganization, arguing that
In our former positions we found NIOSH's independent scientific recommendations to be indispensable. Because the process of establishing and enforcing workplace standards is always difficult and contentious, a solid scientific basis for rulemaking goes far toward narrowing 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 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Mine Safety and Health Administration bring science-based considerations to the rulemaking process. It was not the intent of Congress for the head of OSHA to communicate with someone five levels down in the DHHS bureaucracy.
Other letters have been sent to Thompson from the AFL-CIO, American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses, the American Society of Safety Engineers and American Industrial Hygiene Association.

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