News | April 26, 2007

AIHA Calls For Support To Request A GAO Study On NIOSH

Fairfax, VA - The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) sent a letter to the Honorable Edward M. Kennedy, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee for the U.S. Senate, to elicit his support for Congress to request a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study to collect the information necessary to determine whether the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) would be best suited in the Department of Labor, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), or maintain its current organizational structure within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

AIHA also sent the letter to the chairmen and vice chairmen of several Senate and House committees and subcommittees with appropriations control and jurisdiction over NIOSH. A study of this issue should look at the pros and cons of these alternatives and would provide NIOSH, CDC, stakeholders, and others with the information and data on how best to address the issue of occupational health and safety in today's workplace.

There have been several recommendations regarding the organizational "home" for NIOSH. One suggestion was to move NIOSH to the Department of Labor where it could more easily interact with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration, agencies that most directly receive advice and research from NIOSH.

AIHA believes a better suggestion is to retain NIOSH within the Department of Health and Human Services but move it to NIH. NIH is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting research that leads the way in improving people's health and saving lives. Disease prevention research within NIH is of the utmost importance to the millions of workers at risk in this country. NIH already has 27 Institutes and Centers under its umbrella, and adding NIOSH would allow NIOSH research to take advantage of the many researchers used by NIH.

Although AIHA believes moving NIOSH to NIH has merit, AIHA suggests that Congress request the GAO to conduct a study to determine whether NIOSH should remain within the organizational structure of the CDC and, if not, where it should be located.

Due to the increased national focus on public health requirements, AIHA feels that CDC may not have adequate resources to fulfill the expected challenges facing our country, as well as overseeing NIOSH and its research priorities. NIOSH has had to find several million dollars from its existing budget each of the past three years to study the health and safety impacts of nanotechnology because no direct research funding has been appropriated.

In 2004, CDC announced it was planning to reorganize CDC's programs into four "coordinating centers" as part of the Agency's Futures Initiative. Under the plan, NIOSH would have been placed under one of these centers. As a result of a tremendous amount of opposition to this recommendation, Congress included language in the FY 2005 omnibus budget bill recommending that CDC "maintain the status quo with respect to the direct reporting relationship of the NIOSH director to the CDC director" and that "CDC make no changes to NIOSH's current operating procedures and organizational structure."

Although this effort was somewhat successful (the NIOSH budget remained as a separate line item and NIOSH is no longer participating in coordinator center meetings), many concerns remain. In part, this is because these efforts addressed only a short-term fix for NIOSH. Again, in 2008, the NIOSH budget is facing a crisis as its research funding remains flat and an ever-increasing amount of the budget flows back to CDC for administrative costs.

NIOSH is the only federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness. Created in 1970, along with OSHA, NIOSH is part of CDC in the Department of Health and Human Services. The NIOSH mission is multi-faceted. In addition to working with over 500 partners on the National Occupational Research Agenda, NIOSH supports training of occupational safety and health professionals and researchers through 16 regional Education and Research Centers and through training grants throughout the U.S.

The full text of the AIHA letter is available at www.aiha.org under "Government Affairs." For more information, please contact Aaron Trippler, AIHA director of government affairs, at (703) 846-0730 or atrippler@aiha.org.

SOURCE: American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA)

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