Latest in the Federal Budget Fight over OSHA and MSHA
On March 28, 2012, DoL Secretary Hilda Solis testified before the House Appropropriations Subcommittee On Labor, Health And Human Services, Education And Related Agencies. Her testimony, at http://www.dol.gov/_sec/media/congress/20120328_solis.htm, outlined the following on OSHA and MSHA in the Adminisration’s request –
Occupational Safety and Health. OSHA uses enforcement and compliance assistance activities to ensure that this nation’s employees are able to return home safely from work every day The request of $565 million for OSHA includes an additional $5 million to support OSHA’s enforcement of the 21 whistleblower protection programs it administers that protect workers and others who are retaliated against for reporting unsafe and unscrupulous practices. It also maintains the significant increase provided in FY 2012 for the small business consultation program.
Mine Safety and Health. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) provides miners across the nation with safer and more healthful workplaces through enforcement of mine safety and health laws, as well as through technical assistance, training, and outreach The budget request for MSHA of $372 million provides funding to allow MSHA to carry out its mission, while achieving efficiencies and reallocating resources into its highest priority activities, including statutorily-mandated inspections in the coal and metal/non-metal enforcement programs.
Case Backlog before the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission. The budget includes $16.9 million for MSHA and SOL to continue ongoing work to address the backlog of contested citations at the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission (FMSHRC) We must continue our efforts in this area to ensure that we are holding mine operators accountable if they fail to meet their legal and moral responsibility to operate safe minesIf we do not reduce the backlog, some mine operators will continue to contest violations as a way of “gaming the system” to delay payment of civil penalties and avoid scrutiny under MSHA’s existing pattern of violation regulations This will lead to even higher contest rates and potentially unsafe mines.
Of more importance are the Secretary’s comments about the impact sequestration would have on OSHA and MSHA. Sequestration is the result of the debt ceiling debate that riveted the nation last summer, 2011. That debate resulted in the resulted in Budget Control Act which, among other things, created a 12-member bipartisan Senate and House Joint Deficit Commission charged with finding $1.2 trillion in federal budget cuts/savings over 10 years. If the Commission failed to determine those cuts, which it did, sequestration, or automatic across-the-board cuts are trigged. The cuts, estimated by CBO to be at least 7.8 percent, maybe more, are scheduled to come January 2013. The Secretary said the following about the possible impact on the Department of Labor –
“We believe the impact of a sequester would be both significant and very negative. A large sequester would have serious ramifications for my Department and the people we serve It would jeopardize our Nation’s ability to develop and support a skilled workforce that can compete in the global economy, as well as jeopardize the conditions under which they work Along with other deep cuts in defense and non-defense spending, this potential harm to our economic competitiveness is why the threat of a large, indiscriminate sequester is a powerful incentive to spur action to reduce the deficit By design, the sequester is bad policy, bringing about deep cuts in defense and non-defense spending and threatening continued economic growth and prosperity.
“Although the Administration is continuing to analyze the potential impact of the sequester, CBO has said that in 2013 it would result in a 7.8 percent cut in non-security discretionary accounts that are not exempt from the sequester It would be impossible for us to manage cuts of that magnitude and still achieve our fundamental mission to prepare and protect American workers…
“(T)he estimated 7.8 percent reduction in funding required by a sequester would result in a reduction of over $136 million for our worker protection agencies This would have a significant impact on our efforts to ensure safe and healthy workplaces, and to ensure that workers get the wages and benefits to which they are entitled These reductions would likely impact our most vulnerable workers just as we are emerging from an economic recession.”