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Febuary 23 , 2006

The Honorable Michael O. Leavitt
US Department of Health and Human Services
Hubert H. Humphrey Building
200 Independence Avenue, SW
Room 615F
Washington, DC 20201

RE: Barring NIOSH Participation in the February 15 Senate Mine Safety Roundtable

Dear Secretary Leavitt:

On behalf of the 30,000 member safety, health and environmental (SH&E) professionals of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), I want to express how troubling it is to us that the Department of Health and Human Services apparently did not allow a representative from the Mining Program of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to participate in the February 15 Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety roundtable on Communication and Mine Safety Technology.

There is no greater resource for technical information on mining communication and safety technology than NIOSH's Mining Program. No understandable rationale exists for keeping that expertise out of any conversation that our elected representatives want to hold in an effort to find answers to the questions we all have about the safety of this nation's mines following the recent tragedies in West Virginia.

Two years ago, ASSE made known to you and Dr. Gerberding our opposition to reorganization efforts that took away from NIOSH key functional capabilities. At the time, we expressed a concern that, if the importance of NIOSH to the safety and health of America's workers was not appreciated within HHS and CDC, perhaps it was time to consider establishing NIOSH as an independent agency within the Department of Labor where its value in providing the research and support for safety and health education is better understood and fits well the overall mission of the Department.

For ASSE, this failure to allow the Mining Program to be represented in Congressional discussion on mine safety only strengthens our concern that HHS does not fully understand the importance of NIOSH, as does the President's recently announced FY 2007 proposed budget, which would reduce NIOSH funding by $5 million, from the current $255 million to $250 million.

ASSE applauds your commitment and the work of HHS in helping protect the health and welfare of the American people. What appears missing is a full appreciation of the vitally important role that occupational safety and health plays in this nation's overall well being. We urge you to ensure that Congress has full access to the resources of NIOSH and that NIOSH be fully and adequately funded to carry out its mission. If that is not possible, perhaps NIOSH's mission could be better served within the Department of Labor.


Jack H. Dobson, Jr., CSP


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