The Obama administration has proposed a fiscal year 2011 budget of $573 million for OSHA, part of the Department of Labor’s overall $117 billion proposed budget.

OSHA’s funding is $15 million more than the $558 million the agency is operating on in fiscal 2010 and far above the $513 million budget of fiscal 2009.

OSHA’s budget “affirms this administration's strong commitment to vigorous enforcement,” said Labor Secretary Hilda Solis during a live web chat introducing the budget. “With the largest fine in OSHA’s history and more egregious cases, we are sending a strong message throughout industry that we will not tolerate the endangerment of workers. We will continue those efforts with a number of new and innovative enforcement initiatives in the coming year.”

OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program, which has operated under a cloud of uncertain support in the Obama administration after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) last year issued a report critical of VPP oversight and internal controls, is looking at significantly reduced direct federal funding in fiscal year 2011, according to Solis. OSHA will shift 35 field inspectors from VPP compliance assistance programs and add 25 additional inspectors (on top of the 100 new inspectors hired in fiscal 2010) to national and local enforcement emphasis efforts, said agency head Dr. David Michaels.

Organized labor has long been critical of OSHA’s emphasis on VPP, which has grown dramatically in the number of qualified work sites during both the Clinton and Bush administrations. Union safety leaders at the national level have pushed for OSHA to spend more time and money going after the bad guys and less on VPP companies “that get safety” and excel at it. It seems the current regime at OSHA is listening.