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FY 2021 Federal Budget Proposal: Impact on Federal Safety Agencies

Adele L. Abrams, Esq., CMSP, ASSP Federal Representative
Feb 26, 2020

On Feb. 10, 2020, the Trump administration published its proposed federal government budget for fiscal year 2021 (FY 2021), which runs Oct. 1, 2020 to Sept. 30, 2021. The proposed budget is the beginning of the government agency funding process, and final appropriations may be different than the amounts proposed.

In recent years, including FY 2020, key federal safety agencies including OSHA, MSHA and NIOSH have been funded through a continuing resolution. Although the U.S. House of Representatives passed an FY 2020 appropriations bill that covers these three agencies, the U.S. Senate did not enact its companion measure in time.

Beginning with the FY 2018 budget plan, proposed funding levels for safety programs have been far below those ultimately enacted in either stand-alone appropriations legislation or via the continuing resolution process.

This post addresses the FY 2021 budget proposals for the main safety agencies within the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Transportation (DOT), and independent safety-related agencies including Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB).

It also compares the proposed levels with the FY 2020 appropriations, which may provide insight into how this year’s appropriations measures will align. All spending measures originate in the U.S. House of Representatives, currently under Democratic control, so as a policy matter, it is unlikely that the cuts proposed for safety programs will be effectuated.

Budget Proposal Overview

The FY 2021 budget proposes to decrease spending for many domestic programs, including EPA (27 percent) and DOL (11 percent), which is the parent agency for OSHA and MSHA. Business-friendly agencies such as the Small Business Administration (SBA) are targeted for spending cuts, with SBA programs facing a 25-percent reduction from current levels. SBA supports SBREFA panels that gauge the impact of major rules on small businesses.

The Commerce Department would also be cut by 37 percent, while the Department of Health and Human Services (where NIOSH is housed) is slated for a nine-percent reduction. The administration is seeking spending increases for only four departments: Veterans Affairs (13 percent), Defense, Treasury and Homeland Security (each at three percent or less).

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

The FY 2021 budget proposes a small reduction of $4.5 million in OSHA’s overall budget, bringing it to $576.8 million. Last year, OSHA received a significant increase in appropriations, from $558.2 million in FY 2019 to $581.2 million.

The DOL narrative says that OSHA will fund just under 1,900 direct employees next year, which includes funds for new inspectors, instructors and whistleblower investigators. OSHA and its state partners have less than 2,000 inspectors to enforce safety and health rules and provide compliance assistance for the protection of 130 million workers at eight million worksites. Last year, the House appropriations legislation noted that with current staffing levels, each workplace could be inspected by OSHA once every 165 years.

The proposal would increase federal enforcement and whistleblower programs and investigations. The increases in these areas as well as the overall reduction in spending would be offset by eliminating the Susan Harwood training grants program, a proposal Congress has rejected many times. The administration claims eliminating the grants will “maximize [OSHA] flexibility and allow alternative methods to develop and distribute training materials to reach the broadest possible audience.” Often, Harwood grants have been given to labor organizations to develop training materials that serve low-literacy and high-hazard industry workers.

The proposed budget also includes a small increase in federal compliance assistance. However, the administration wants to eliminate language in the annual appropriations that protects funding for Voluntary Protection Programs, OSHA’s signature compliance assistance program.

Details of the OSHA Funding Proposal

  • Safety and Health Standards: $18.133 million ($18.0 in FY 2020)
  • Enforcement: $233.8 million ($221.7 million in FY 2020)
  • Whistleblower Programs: $20.3 million ($18.6 million in FY 2020)
  • State Programs: $108.6 million (same as FY 2020)
  • Technical Support: $24.5 million ($24.6 million in FY 2020)
  • Compliance Assistance (federal): $75.4 million ($74.5 in FY 2020)
  • Compliance Assistance (state): $61.5 million (same as FY 2020)
  • Compliance Assistance (training grants): $0 ($11.5 million in FY 2020)
  • Safety and Health Statistics: $34.95 million ($32.9 million in FY 2020)
  • Executive Direction: $9.544 million ($9.496 million in FY 2020)

Mine Safety and Health Administration

The proposed budget for FY 2021 would increase MSHA’s overall budget by about $1.8 million, from $379.8 million to $381.6 million. MSHA regulates safety and health at 1,200 coal mines and 12,000 metal and nonmetal mines in the U.S.

MSHA is mandated to inspect all underground mines at least four times per year and to inspect all surface mines (including cement plants, quarries and pits, alumina and steel processing facilities) at least twice per year. MSHA provides training and compliance assistance support and operates a classroom training institute. The agency also has a technical support division that evaluates new technologies, equipment and processes, and supports mine rescue activities.

Mine safety and health enforcement would see a decrease of about $2 million, which is justified by the more efficient use of MSHA resources. MSHA’s Program Evaluation and Information Resources would be increased by $2.6 million. According to the DOL budget document, the increase is needed to “modernize MSHA’s Standardized Information System (MSIS), the agency’s 20-year old core mission system.”

Details of the MSHA Funding Proposal

  • Enforcement: $256.988 million ($258.913 million in FY 2020)
  • Standards, Regulations and Variances: $5.416 million ($5.382 million in FY 2020)
  • Office of Assessments: $7.6 million ($7.4 million in FY 2020)
  • Technical Support: $34.548 million ($34.1 million in FY  2020)
  • Educational Policy and Development: $38.8 million ($38.6 million in FY 2020)
  • Program Evaluation and Information Resources: $21.7 million ($19.1 million in FY 2020)
  • Program administration: $16.6 million ($16.4 million in FY 2020)

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

NIOSH is located within the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. The proposed budget would reduce NIOSH’s discretionary funding by more than 40 percent, which could negatively impact its ongoing and prospective programs, as well as its long-term National Occupational Research Agenda. NIOSH received $342 million in discretionary funds in FY 2020, while the FY 2021 proposed budget would provide only $190 million (a $152.8 million reduction). In addition, the administration has proposed $157 million to fund NIOSH's companion agency, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, which addresses environmental health sciences, with an additional $62 million for the Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The proposal would eliminate NIOSH’s Education and Research Centers. This would stop funding for academic salaries and associated fees for safety and health professionals working at supported universities (institutions that offer terminal degree programs in occupational safety and health and safety engineering). Such cuts could impact the agency’s ability to support training for the next generation of safety and health professionals.

The CDC narrative notes that NIOSH will focus on the “highest priority” research, including mine safety and health and personal protective technology. However, the Office of Management and Budget, which prepares the budget, says some projects, such as ergonomics research, should be shifted to and funded by the private sector.

NIOSH also receives mandatory funding under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, which provides compensation for Department of Energy employees and survivors who were diagnosed with diseases related to production and testing of nuclear weapons, and the World Trade Center Health Program, which provides monitoring and treatment benefits for responders and survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Together those programs are estimated to cost $595.6 million in FY 2021. NIOSH is also the primary agency conducting or funding intramural and extramural mine safety and health research.

An important consideration for NIOSH funding for FY 2021 is potential diversion of CDC funds to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Department of Transportation

The proposed budget requests $89 billion for DOT, which includes 10-year funding and program authorization for the agency’s surface transportation programs (the current infrastructure bill expires at the end of FY 2020).

Safety-Related Highlights of the DOT Proposal

  • Funding for improving safety oversight work of the Federal Aviation Administration, including activities related to the Boeing 737 MAX investigations
  • Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) operations and programs: $299 million ($288 million in FY 2020)
  • FMCSA safety grants: $403 million ($391.1 million in FY 2020)
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration $964.5 million ($989.3 million in FY 2020), with reductions in operations and research but not safety grants
  • Federal Railroad Administration safety and operations: $225.6 million ($224.2 million in FY 2020)
  • Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration: $276.2 million ($279.9 million in FY 2020), with the $3.7 million in cuts focused on the hazardous materials safety and pipeline safety programs. This agency regulates more than 40,000 companies involved in the transportation of hazardous materials, including 16 billion barrels of hazardous liquids and gases. It also has jurisdiction over safe transport of materials by air, highway, rail and water.

Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board

As in past years, the proposal would eliminate the CSB. However, despite similar requests since FY 2018, the administration has not followed up with a legislative proposal to eliminate the CSB, and Congress has continued to fund the agency.

In FY 2020, CSB received $12 million, so the proposal of $13.54 million to fund CSB in FY 2021, of which $400,000 would be used to help implement the new chemical incident reporting rule, reflects an increase over current levels.

CSB is an independent agency that investigates significant chemical incidents, prepares public reports and makes recommendations to EPA, OSHA and related agencies. Its findings have often included recommendations for new rulemaking (e.g., combustible dust). Of the proposed FY 2021 funding, nearly $9 million is used for compensation, benefits, rents and administrative services.

Environmental Protection Agency

EPA would receive $6.658 billion, with the $2.4 billion (26.5 percent) in proposed cuts. The proposal would include steep cuts in programs addressing hazardous waste site cleanup, research and development, and safe drinking water programs. Funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would be cut 22 percent ($5.97 billion), impacting this agency’s environmentally sustainable water and energy infrastructure projects.

Related Environmental Programs

The proposed federal budget cuts would also affect these agencies related to environmental protection:

  • Bureau of Land Management (cut 11 percent)
  • Fish and Wildlife Services (16 percent)
  • National Park Service (17 percent)
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate research ($85 million reduction)
  • NASA’s earth science work (10.3 percent)

The proposal also would eliminate the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Project Agency and reduce the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program by $2.1 million.

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