Last week the Obama administration released its fiscal year 2010 budget proposal, the clearest indication yet of the new administration’s priorities.

As has been the case historically, federal environmental protection spending far outpaces investments in occupational health and safety. Except now the Obama administration has increased the discrepancy to an unprecedented degree. EPA’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2010 of $10.5 billion (up from $7.5 billion in 2008 and a 34 percent increase above expected 2009 spending) comes within range of equaling the entire Department of Labor 2010 budget proposal of $13.3 billion.

EPA spending was $7.5 billion in fiscal 2008 and is expected to rise to $7.8 billion for fiscal 2009 pending final approval by Congress later this week. That would make EPA’s budget approximately 15 times the size of OSHA’s.

At press time, the specific funding request for OSHA in fiscal 2010 had not been made available. OSHA has been working with an allocation of $486 million. President Bush had proposed a budget of $501 million for fiscal 2009. The Omnibus Spending Bill soon to be voted on by the U.S. Senate increases OSHA funding to $513 million. OSHA-watchers in Washington expect the final number to be very close to this $513 million.

The fiscal year 2009 budget dictates that the increase be used to rebuild OSHA's enforcement. “An important component of this mission is to enhance enforcement and oversight of injury and illness recordkeeping to ensure complete and accurate recording and reporting by employers,” it says. The bill mandates that $1 million of the new money be used to strengthen the auditing of illnesses and injuries recordkeeping. It also calls for a $52 million increase for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to $597 million, with some of the money aimed at improving the agency's ability to capture accurate workplace injury statistics.

The Obama administration is saying all the right things about future OSHA funding the agency’s supporters want to hear.

“For the past eight years, the department’s labor law enforcement agencies have struggled with growing workloads and shrinking staff,” says the 2010 budget proposal for DOL. ”The president’s budget seeks to reverse this trend, restoring the department’s ability to meets its responsibilities to working Americans under the more than 180 worker protection laws it enforces.

“It strengthens enforcement of labor standards, including workplace safety and benefit security, reversing years of erosion in funding for labor law enforcement agencies.

“The budget will increase funding for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, enabling it to vigorously enforce workplace safety laws and whistleblower protections, and ensure the safety and health of American workers.”

Still, says one Washington source who closely tracks federal OSHA and EPA spending: “If one wants to compare OSHA to EPA, occupational health and safety is really shortchanged. The EPA 2010 proposal is for a 34 percent increase - to $10.5 billion. Makes one realize how this agency has grown compared to OSHA.”