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September 27, 2004

Senator Arlen Specter
Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human
Services and Education
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
SD-184 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Specter:

The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), on behalf of its 30,000 member safety, health and environmental (SH&E) professionals thanks you for your leadership in helping ensure that the Senate Committee on Appropriations has done all that it can to ensure continued independence of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) through the Committee's appropriations bill report. Keeping NIOSH as a separate line item in the budget, increasing its budget, and directing that no changes be made to its operating procedures or organizational structure sends a needed message confirming NIOSH's unique value as the only government resource for occupational safety and health research.

While ASSE commends the Committee's direction to the Administration and will support your efforts to ensure that NIOSH maintains its organizational independence, this experience only confirms a long-standing concern that NIOSH may not be in the best

possible organizational position in the federal government to fulfill its statutory mission. Accompanying this letter is a white paper that lays

out ASSE's perspective on NIOSH's role within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is obvious to us that the leadership of the CDC is well meaning and has a difficult task in simplifying the organizational structure of an agency that is vitally important to all our lives. But it has also become obvious that the mission of NIOSH to advance this nation's understanding of occupational safety and health issues is uniquely different from the mission of every other area of CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Demoting NIOSH from its current organizational position and isolating it in a cluster of non-occupational agencies signals a lack of understanding of NIOSH's singular importance to occupational safety and health. A lack of understanding is reflected, too, in the decreasing relative importance of NIOSH within CDC's budget. The Administration's FY 2005 budget for NIOSH is $279 million, only about two dollars per worker per year for its mission. By comparison, another HHS institute, the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences was created about the same time as NIOSH with a similar budget. NIEHS' FY 2005 proposed budget of $650 million, or 233 percent more than NIOSH.

It has long been apparent to ASSE that NIOSH's main functions involve working cooperatively with OSHA and MSHA in an advisory capacity. Given the lack of support for NIOSH within HHS, we have concluded that the time has come to consider seriously the relocation of NIOSH as an independent agency status within the U.S. Department of Labor, much like the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the beginning there may have been good reason to locate NIOSH away from the Department of Labor to ensure independence, but, now, the risks of NIOSH's losing its independence pale in comparison to the weak budgetary support it has received over the years in HHS, its isolation in CDC among health-related agencies, and its apparent demotion in the CDC organizational structure. A draft bill that would accomplish this goal also accompanies this letter.

ASSE's members know that their responsibility for helping protect workers from occupational hazards would be difficult to carry out without the backbone of research and training aid that NIOSH provides. For their sake, ASSE hopes that you will consider our proposal. NIOSH already supports the purpose and mission of OSHA and MSHA. Within the same organization, cooperation between these agencies can only flourish. ASSE stands ready to answer your questions or help you in any way in your efforts to ensure the independence and capabilities of NIOSH.


Gene Barfield, CSP

White Paper Effective Reorganization for NIOSH September 2004 (word doc)

cc: Senator Michael B. Enzi, Chairman, and Senator Patty Murray, Rranking Minority Member, Subcommittee on Employment, Safety and Training



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