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As Sequester Approaches, White House Warns of Rising Occupational Hazards

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

If the sequestration budget cuts take effect March 1, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration could be forced to take its inspectors off the job “for some period of time,” the White House said Feb. 8.  

“This would mean roughly 1,200 fewer inspections of the nation's most dangerous workplaces, which would leave workers unprotected and could lead to an increase in worker fatality and injury rates,” the White House said in a fact sheet listing the most damaging effects of sequestration.

“Our economy is poised to take off, but we cannot afford a self-inflicted wound from Washington,” the White House said. “We cannot simply cut our way to prosperity, and if Republicans continue to insist on an unreasonable cuts-only approach, the middle class risks paying the price.”

In order to stave off sequestration, Congress must agree on a plan to pare $1.2 trillion, over a nine-year period, from the federal deficit before the deadline.

Expected Hit to OSHA: $46 Million

If sequestration is triggered, OSHA's budget would automatically be pared by $46 million, the White House said in a Sept. 14 report (42 OSHR 843, 9/20/12).

On Feb. 5, President Obama called on Congress to delay sequestration with a combination of spending cuts and tax changes.

Republicans countered that the House has twice passed bills to replace the sequester, which have been ignored by the Senate.

“If Democrats have ideas for smarter cuts, they should bring them up for debate,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a Feb. 5 statement. “But the American people will not support more tax hikes in place of the meaningful spending reductions both parties already agreed to and the president signed into law.”

Advocates Eye VPP for Cuts

Some labor advocates have suggested that OSHA cope with the budget cuts by trimming its voluntary protection program.

Federal and state compliance assistance programs account for $134.2 million of OSHA's $564.8 million budget, almost three times the amount of the cuts that the White House says would be brought on by sequestration.

“You could make a strong argument that, in a time of severe budget restriction, they should cut back on cooperative programs, and particularly VPP reward programs, and they should focus on basic enforcement,” Randy Rabinowitz, director of regulatory policy at the Center for Effective Government, told BNA.

“Instead of patting good actors on the back--which is fine, I'm not saying it's a bad thing--but it seems like it's not their core mission to reward good actors,” Rabinowitz said. “Their core mission is to fine people who are not complying with the law and try and create a reason that they would want to.”

Rabinowitz predicted, however, that the cuts are more likely to affect various OSHA programs.

OSHA chief David Michaels has said that VPP's funding is secure.

“VPP will continue,” he told BNA Jan. 4. “I want the VPP program to thrive, and we have every intention to continue to ensure that the VPP program includes the best of the best. It's a very special program. It's the employers we like to point to and say, 'They're doing it right. Follow their lead.' And that will continue.”

President's Budget on Hold?

Meanwhile, Obama failed to submit his fiscal 2014 budget on time when the Feb. 4 deadline passed.

By law, the president must submit his budget plan by the first Monday of February. The White House has declined to say when the budget will be released.

Aaron Trippler, government affairs director at the American Industrial Hygiene Association, said he does not think the missed budget deadline will have any material effect on agencies' funding limits.

“Frankly, missing the budget deadline may turn out to be a blessing in disguise,” Trippler said. “When one looks back over the past years, projected cuts in some programs have been saved because no budget has been adopted, rather a continuing resolution. That doesn't make it right, but it's real.”

By Stephen Lee  


The White House's Feb. 8 fact sheet is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/02/08/fact-sheet-examples-how-sequester-would-impact-middle-class-families-job.

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