The Department of Labor’s 2012 budget reflects “difficult choices,” according to Secretary Hilda L. Solis, testifying last week before the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Committee on Appropriations.

“There is broad agreement that the Federal government has to start living within its means, and the President's 2012 budget represents a good first step toward our shared long-term goal of reducing the federal deficit,” said Solis, who added that getting the U.S. “back to work” is a top priority of the Obama administration.

“The (Labor) Department's FY 2012 Budget reflects difficult choices that will help put our nation on a sustainable fiscal path while also investing in programs and activities that will fuel economic growth.”

That budget includes increases of $132 million (over FY 2010) for worker protection agencies. OSHA’s $583.4 million – which would be a $24.8 million increase over 2010 levels – would include $7.7 million for expanding its compliance safety and health officer (CSHO) workforce. Solis said that would enable the agency “to continue OSHA's intensified commitment to preventing injuries, illnesses and fatalities by deterring employers in the most hazardous workplaces who exhibit a profound disregard for worker safety and health.”

The request also includes a program increase of $4.0 million to expand the agency's regulatory program, as well as $2.4 million for the development of the Injury and Illness Prevention Program rule.

OSHA’s whistleblower programs, already dealing with a backlog of claims and anticipating a high volume of new, complex ones due to recently passed laws involving health care reform, food safety and finance reform, would get a boost in the form of an additional $6 million.

Solis began the mine safety portion of her remarks by referring to the April 5, 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine, which killed 29 miners. “In light of the disaster, we need to think through how to protect miners to the fullest extent of our capabilities,” she said.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) 2012 budget proposal is for $384.4 million, which represents a $27 million increase over FY 2010. The MSHA request would include funds for upgrading mine emergency response and rescue capabilities, modernizing the current outdated health database system and reducing the backlog of contested citations.

“These investments in addressing the backlog are particularly important,” commented Solis. “If we do not reduce the backlog, mine operators will continue to have a strong incentive to contest violations as a way of gaining time before civil penalties are finalized and patterns of violations are established under MSHA's existing regulations. This will lead to even higher contest rates and potentially unsafe mines.”