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House Appropriations Committee Passes FY18 Labor-HHS bill

By Adele L. Abrams, Esq., CMSP, ASSE Federal Representative

On July 20, 2017, the House Appropriations Committee voted 28-22 to approve the FY 2018 appropriations package that includes funding for OSHA, MSHA and NIOSH. The bill, HR 3358, awaits passage by the House and consideration in the Senate later this year before the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1, 2017.

While funding cuts were not as drastic as expected, the House plan is recommending reductions at OSHA, NIOSH, MSHA, OSHRC and FMSHRC. 

The main “riders” placed on the funding package relating to safety and health are provisions dealing with funding for training institutes and laboratory testing programs, and continuation of the restriction on OSHA enforcement at farms or against employers with 10 or fewer workers (with certain exceptions), and on the MSHA side, allocations for the Mine Academy, purchase of equipment under the coal mine dust rule, mine rescue activities, and funding for education and training through cooperative agreements with states, industry and safety associations (labor organizations are not included on this list for FY18).

Following are key components of HR 3358. Additional amendments could be added when the measure comes before the full House of Representatives.

OSHA

The committee recommended $531.470 million for OSHA, a $21.317 million (4%) decrease from FY17 and $11.787 million below President Trump’s budget request. In justifying the cuts, the committee advocates a funding strategy that “more effectively balances enforcement with education, training and compliance assistance.” The report notes that “overreliance on enforcement in recent years has fostered a toxic environment between the agency and employers that is undermining the agency’s goals for workplace safety and is at odds with federal policies that support economic growth and job creation.”

The line item funding for OSHA includes:

  • $18 million for safety and health standards
  • $194.25 million for federal enforcement
  • $17.5 million for whistleblower programs (OSHA enforces whistleblower protections under the OSH Act, Sarbanes-Oxley, the transportation agency safety laws, and over a dozen environmental statutes)
  • $100.85 million for state programs
  • $24.469 million for technical support
  • $131.851 million for compliance assistance (including funding for state consultation grants)
  • No funding for training grants (Harwood Grants defunded)

National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH)

The House proposal would now provide NIOSH with $325.2 million, $10 million below the current FY17 funding levels. By comparison, President Trump’s original budget plan would have cut NIOSH funding by $135.2 million and would have eliminated all extramural programs, as well as cutting other programs that address workers who are at high risk. The appropriation supports surveillance, health hazard evaluations, intramural and extramural research, instrument and methods development, dissemination and training grants.

Little detail is provided in the NIOSH budget (via the House Appropriations Committee report) but the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) would be allotted $116 million, the Education and Research Centers would have $25 million in funding, and mine safety research would receive $59.5 million, while other OSH research was set at $99.6 million. Rider language would permit NIOSH to fund replacement of its underground and surface coal mining research capacity (replacement of the now-closed Lake Lynn facility).

Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA)

MSHA would receive $359.975 million in funding for FY18, which is $13.841 million below current FY17 levels and is also $15.197 million less than was sought by the administration. The report says that it “continues to receive reports of inspectors exceeding necessary and appropriate levels of oversight to the point of significantly impeding mining operations [and] questions whether this strategy materially improves safety and if the costs outweigh the benefits of such additional oversight.” It encouraged MSHA to make reductions in force if necessary and realign its resources to match where mining activity is currently occurring.

OSHRC & FMSHRC

The two adjudicatory independent agencies that resolve OSHA and MSHA disputes were also included in this appropriations package.

The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, which adjudicates OSHA citation challenges, would receive $12.875 million, which is $350,000 below current levels and is $250,000 above the president’s FY18 budget request.

The Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, which adjudicates MSHA citation challenges, would get $17.14 million for FY18, about $50,000 less than the current year and $81,000 more than the administration's budget request.

It is significant to note that MSHA litigation resolution is funded at a higher level than OSHA adjudication, even though (according to CDC data for 2015) MSHA regulates 13,300 active mining operations, whereas OSHA regulates about 6 million companies in the U.S. 

Adele L. Abrams, Esq., CMSP, is president of the Law Office of Adele L. Abrams P.C., and ASSE's federal representative. 

 

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