President Trump’s Budget Request Could Eliminate NIOSH, ERCs, Chemical Safety Board, and Seeks Deep Cuts to OEHS Programs

March 12, 2018

Last month President Donald J. Trump submitted his administration’s budgetary wish list to Congress for fiscal year 2019. At its core, the budget request is a statement of values. But perhaps more revealingly, it is a statement about how he and his administration view the world, and how they believe it can be improved. In general, the President and his appointees believe in a devolution of responsibility and power away from the government to the private sector. This philosophy is seen in his recommendation to eliminate NIOSH’s Education and Research Centers (ERCs), with the rationale being that the ERCs have served their purpose, as OEHS programs exist in institutions of higher education throughout the nation, and thus the ERCs are no longer needed. In a somewhat similar fashion, the President calls for shutting down the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, arguing that much of its work duplicates that of other agencies, and that many of its recommendations call for greater regulation – which is anathema to President Trump’s efforts to reduce regulation.

Themes of devolution continue elsewhere through the President’s budget request, further manifesting as programmatic cuts and reorganizations intended to streamline the workings of government. While such efforts are to be commended, we must be watchful and responsibly wary of possible unintended consequences – and even outright threats to functions we support. For instance, President Trump calls for eliminating NIOSH. While this is not explicitly stated anywhere in the budget request, it is the hidden subtext and logical conclusion of the President’s proposal to consolidate the research activities of NIOSH into the National Institutes of Health, prioritizing research on mining safety and personal-protection technology, while the World Trade Center Health Program would continue to be administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Because NIOSH currently resides under CDC, it’s not clear whether the World Trade Center Health Program would be managed by NIOSH or some other entity within CDC. While it’s possible the President does not intend to fully eliminate NIOSH, given his desire to consolidate its activities with those of other federal programs, at the very least the President appears to envision a greatly reduced role for NIOSH.

Stepping back, the desire of the President and his appointees to foster a government that better serves the American people is one that is shared by all. However, the President’s theories for achieving the goals on which we all generally agree appear to be incomplete, and represent a misunderstanding of the deeply interwoven, interdependent relationship between the public and private sectors concerning OEHS. Instead of proposing to cut OSHA and NIOSH by more than $146 million, more resources should be provided. Instead of eliminating the Chemical Safety Board, it should be supported. Millions of current and future American workers and businesses depend on the work of a handful of obscure federal programs to generate and disseminate research and guidance, and undertake a host of other activities to help protect them on the job. It is time to recognize the business case for OEHS and provide these entities with levels of support that are commensurate with the value and services they provide to the American people.