Monday, February 06, 2006

Bush Budget Cuts MSHA and OSHA Staffing

Well, we seem to have the expected Bush budget which, as the Washington Post describes it "cut billions of dollars from domestic programs ranging from Medicare and food stamps to local law enforcement and disease control, while extending most of his tax cuts beyond their 2010 expiration date."

But I didn't even expect this. Although I have not yet done a complete analysis of the Fiscal Year 2007 budget as it relates to OSHA and MSHA, a few "highlights" reveal that -- astonishingly, after the events of the past month -- the administration is actually proposing to cut MSHA staffing from the level that it requested in last year's FY 2006 budget.

The MSHA budget seems to have been drawn up late last year and not looked at again since the mine disasters of last month. The administration is proposing to cut more than fifty full time staff positions in the FY 2007 budget, compared with its request in last year's budget, including a cut of 27 positions in coal enforcement -- from 1,043 requested in FY 2006 to 1016 full time employees requested in FY 2007.

According to a recent report by Congressman George Miller (D-CA), this is consistent with the Bush administration's previous cuts:
In its request for FY 2002, the Bush Administration cut 47 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) positions at the agency. Between FY 2001 and FY 2006, MSHA’s staff was cut by 170 FTE’s. The number of coal enforcement personnel, in particular, has been reduced by 9 percent during the Bush Administration’s tenure thus far, as the division lost 190 FTE’s between 2001 and 2005.
And although Congress has increased MSHA's budget each year,
in every budget since 2001, when adjusted for inflation, President Bush requested cuts in MSHA’s funding from the previous year’s enacted budget....The President has proposed straight cuts to the coal enforcement budget, even without adjusting for inflation, in every year of his Administration thus far, with the exception of FY 2006.
Meanwhile, back at OSHA, the Bush administration is proposing for the second year in a row to eliminate the Susan Harwood Worker Training Program which provides worker training grants for unions and other non profit organizations to conduct direct worker training.

According to the budget
Since OSHA provides direct outreach activities and training on important safety and health issues in a variety of ways other than through training grants, this reduction will not compromise the agency's ability to deliver compliance assistance, outreach, and training for employers and workers.
Bush has attempted to slash or eliminate the grant program in every budget, but the Senate has restored the grant money each year and specified that the long-term "Institutional Competency" grants, originally issued during the Clinton administratino, be continued. The main focus of the Institutional Competency grants is immigrant worker education.

Otherwise, 28 full time enforcement positions will be cut in the 2007 OSHA budget.

Both MSHA and OSHA are receiving flat funding when adjusted for inflation. OSHA's budget would increase by $11.2 million to $483.7 million while MSHA's would increase by $10 million to $287.8 million.

And now for a bit of comic relief from the President's budget document:
To strengthen deterrence, the Administration again calls on the Congress to pass legislation to increase civil monetary penalties for violations of laws administered by MSHA. The Administration proposes to raise the maximum penalty for egregious violations from $60,000 to $220,000, bringing its penalties more in line with those assessed by OSHA.
These guys have absolutely no shame.

The use of the word "again" is rather amusing (in a sick sort of way) because although the administration has verbally promised to raise penalties in each of the past several years, they didn't actually intoduce legislation until last month. And they're still boasting with a straight fact how mining fatalities (coal, as well as metal/nonmetal) dropped from 72 to 57 from 2001 to 2005, although failing to note that we're already up to 21 fatalities in the first 36 days of this year.