President Biden’s Budget Request Provides Reasons to Get Involved in Government Relations
Budget increases of 15 percent for OSHA and 29 percent for EPA; the provision of more than $26 billion for disaster preparedness, response, and recovery; and a 2 percent budget cut for NIOSH. These are among the highlights of President Biden’s fiscal year 2023 budget request to Congress that are significant to occupational and environmental health and safety.
In each administration, the president’s budget serves as a visionary work that frames discussions moving forward. The product of months of discussions within federal programs, agencies, and the White House, all congressional appropriations decisions are compared both to actual, or enacted, funding levels and those proposed by the president’s budget. Stakeholder groups may be emboldened to advocate for more funding for an agency or program if they see a larger-than-expected increase in the budget request. Thus, although there is a saying in Washington, D.C., about the budget that “the president proposes and Congress disposes,” the president’s budget request still wields significant influence, if for no other reason than its framing and anchoring effects. The president also retains the power to veto bills if, for instance, members of Congress advance legislation that significantly conflicts with the president’s recommended funding levels. Often, merely the threat of a veto, which is formally conveyed via a Statement of Administration Policy, is enough to get members of Congress to change course.
“President Biden’s 2023 budget request of $14.6 billion in discretionary resources for the Department of Labor is an explicit value statement on empowering workers morning, noon and night,” said Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh. “It calls for investments in the foundations of our country’s strength—our workers, their families and their communities.” The president’s budget seeks an 18 percent funding increase for the Department of Labor overall.
One of the largest budgetary increases called for in the president’s budget is represented by the $11.9 billion in discretionary funding sought for EPA. Among other things, this year’s budget request aims to assist EPA in regulating the testing, reporting, recordkeeping, and restriction of chemical substances, as prescribed under the Toxic Substances Control Act. While EPA works with OSHA on TSCA issues related to potential workplace chemical exposures, many have expressed concern that EPA does not currently possess sufficient technical expertise to understand the nuances of sampling best practices, exposure scenarios, and other critical subjects. To help address these concerns, the president’s budget includes $124 million that would be used for 449 full-time equivalents (FTE), including approximately 200 additional FTEs. According to page 106 of the president’s budget request, “These resources would provide resources to complete EPA-initiated chemical risk evaluations, issue protective regulations in accordance with statutory timelines and establish a pipeline of prioritized chemicals for risk evaluation.”
The president’s budget would provide a 2 percent cut for NIOSH, proposing to fund the agency at $345.3 million, or $6.5 million less than the current funding level. Considering that pages 320-321 of the Department of Health and Human Services’ document on the estimated costs for CDC in fiscal year 2023 state that “NIOSH is the only dedicated federal investment for the research needed to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses among the nation’s 161 million workers” (PDF), this seems like a missed opportunity. NIOSH’s Education and Research Centers (ERCs) help educate and train the next generation of OSH professionals. According to NIOSH’s own materials, “The National Assessment of the Occupational Safety and Health Workforce (released in 2011) documents a significant shortfall in the supply of trained OSH professionals to meet demand in the United States.[. . .] The report provides evidence of the continued need to support OSH training and education in the core and allied OSH disciplines.” But the president’s budget proposes a 3.2 percent cut for the ERCs. For years, multiple administrations have proposed to eliminate the ERCs; only the efforts of advocates and members of Congress have saved them. Thus, the fact that President Biden is not recommending for the ERCs to be eliminated can be seen as positive news.
Additionally, the president’s budget proposes a funding increase of more than 20 percent for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
With the president’s budget request delivered, it is now in the hands of members of Congress to weigh and consider which federal agencies and programs will receive budget increases, which will be funded at current levels, and which will receive budget cuts.
AIHA, as a member of several coalitions, including the Friends of NIOSH, the High Performance Buildings Coalition, and the [Re]Build America’s School Infrastructure Coalition (BASIC), will continue advocating for increased funding for federal agencies and programs focused on OEHS. If you’re interested in supporting this work, consider getting involved with one of AIHA’s many volunteer groups, such as the Government Relations Committee.