OSHAAccording to the fiscal year 2013 Congressional Budget Justification document for OSHA, the agency proposes a total of $73,131,000 and 264 full-time employee equivalents (FTE) for federal compliance assistance, a decrease of $3,224,415 and 31 FTE below the FY 2012 enacted level.

OSHA historically ramps up compliance assistance under Republican White House administrations, and de-emphasizes compliance assistance when Democrats control the White House.

In fiscal year 2008, OSHA compliance assistance efforts involved 324 FTEs. That number would drop to 264 if the FY2013 budget is adopted by Congress as proposed.

OSHA states a compliance assistance program decrease of $2,482,000 and 33 FTE is proposed due to reduced federal compliance activity from the consolidation of compliance assistance personnel in geographically dense regions, and the completion of outreach and training materials development in FY 2012, which will not be needed in FY 2013.

OSHA increased compliance assistance spending by almost $3 million in FY2012.

Targeted funding

States OSHA: “To preserve funding for services targeted to small business, the agency will target funding in FY 2013 for other outreach and assistance funded through the Federal Compliance Assistance activity.

“For example, the agency will no longer offer its Corporate and Merit VPP program to new sites in FY 2013, though OSHA still plans to form 60 new VPPs and recertify 280, and there will also be fewer partnerships and alliances formed in FY 2013 due to reduced resources.

“In FY 2013, OSHA proposes to continue to recognize worksites that demonstrate safety and health excellence through its Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) and will continue to implement initiatives targeting federal agencies, Fortune 500 companies, and the construction industry for VPP participation.

“The agency also plans 18 new partnerships in FY 2013 in high-hazard industries with a focus on safety and health topics that are common causes of injuries, illnesses, and fatalities.

And what of the VPP?

Support for the Voluntary Protection Program is slipping within the agency. The proposed 60 new VPP sites for FY2013 are down from a proposed 100 new VPP sites for FY 2012. (Final tallies for FY2012 were not available when President Obama’s proposed FY2013 budget was issued.)

In fiscal year 2010, OSHA approved 101 new VPP sites and reapproved 291 sites.

VPP continues to be scrutinized by the current OSHA leadership. States the agency: “As part of its ongoing response to the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) May 2009 report, ‘Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) – Improved Oversight and Controls Would Better Ensure Program Quality,’ OSHA issued additional direction to improve the consistent operations and administration of VPP.

“This included instructions to clarify policy and procedures for the annual data submission required of all VPP participants and OSHA's review of the submissions and clarification on incentive programs within the context of an employer’s proper and accurate recording of injuries and illnesses, distinguishing an effective incentive program from one that discourages workers from reporting an injury or illness.

“A significant development in OSHA’s efforts to improve the VPP was the creation of a VPP Review Workgroup in April 2011. The workgroup was charged with conducting a comprehensive review of the VPP, and will submit recommendations in early FY 2012 to the Assistant Secretary for improving the program.”

VPP, which is more than 30 years old, is highly unlikely to be eliminated during President Obama’s second term, according to Washington sources. It is OSHA’s high-profile poster child for encouraging workplace safety excellence. Killing it would put OSHA very much on the defensive.

Instead, it would not be surprising to see continuing budget cuts to VPP, and the administration allowing the program to drift under what might be considered benign neglect.