Monday, March 28, 2005

NIOSH by the Numbers

Over the years NIOSH (the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) has always had to fight for its existance. At one point it was in danger of being eliminated completely. Last year the planned reorganization of CDC would have further buried NIOSH within a "coordinating center." This plan was stopped by an outcry from both Labor and Industry and the help of key Senators like Senator Specter. Over the past 5 years, financially it has seemingly been in good shape. The line item for Occupational Safety and Health (i.e., NIOSH) in the CDC budget grew from $247.2 Million dollars in FY 2001 to $286.0 Million in FY 2005. Yet a closer look shows that NIOSH is being subverted, as is perhaps the will of Congress. While NIOSH's budget has grown, CDC has been diverting more and more money from the NIOSH budget for "Business Support Services." CDC has taken over grants management, computer services, budget execution, as well as communications for NIOSH. This diversion grew from $10.7 Million dollars in FY 2001 to $44.7 Million dollars in FY 2005. So, in effect, NIOSH's budget only gained about $3.3 Million over those 5 years, well below inflation and salary increases. One could argue, as I am sure CDC will, that these are not diversions., that CDC is consolidating business services and will provide them to NIOSH more efficiently and cost-effectively. Were that was true. In fact, NIOSH was previously spending $5 Million a year on Computer services, which covered all desktop computers, lab equipment and field equipment. They are now paying CDC $10 Million a year for computer services and only the desktops are covered. Moreover, all requests for computer services have to be funneled through CDC in Atlanta. Such a deal.

Now comes the President's budget for FY 2006. Bush has proposed an actual decrease in funding- to $285.9 Million. Even worse, he has proposed that the number of full time positions at NIOSH be cut from 1435 in FY 2005 (down from 1480 in FY 2001) to 1246! While many of these positions are unfilled right now, this cut would force NIOSH to go to CDC and beg for positions every time they needed to fill one. So for those of you who became complacent when NIOSH was saved from the reorganization by Congress or thought you could relax because NIOSH's budget was rising, forget it. Get the gloves on and come out fighting. NIOSH is, yet again, in danger.

BTW, last week the NIOSH Board of Scientific Counselors, which advises NIOSH on all matters, voted unanimously to express their concerns about these cuts and request an investigation of the contracting-out of services to CDC.