August 2, 2004
Bush Administration Lowers Priority for Worker Safety, Health Issues
A planned reorganization of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would lower the status of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), undermining the agency's effectiveness and limiting its authority, say opponents of the change.
Numerous employee and public health organizations as well as several former high-level government officials from both sides of the political aisle are objecting to the proposed shift. A flurry of letters urging reconsideration of the move were recently sent to U.S. Department Health and Human Services (DHHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson and to CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding.
"We urge you to suspend the CDC reorganization as it affects NIOSH," concludes one letter to Thompson, signed by five former government officials, including Eula Bingham, Gerard Scannell and Joe Dear, each a former Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. 
The change would downgrade NIOSH from an independent Center, which reports directly to Gerberding, to one of several agencies in a newly formed cluster known as the Coordinating Center for Environmental Health, Injury Prevention and Occupational Health. Under the new plan, the Director of NIOSH would report to the head of the Coordinating Center - a switch that critics say would likely mean less budgetary clout for the agency as well as a reduced emphasis on the importance of worker safety and health. 
Pushing NIOSH down the chain of command within CDC would "markedly diminish its effectiveness" in bringing "science-based considerations to the rulemaking process," the letter to Thompson states. "It was not the intent of Congress for the head of OSHA to communicate with someone five levels down in the DHHS bureaucracy." 
Other organizations concerned about the move are the United Auto Workers, American Industrial Hygiene Association and American Society of Safety Engineers.
A fact sheet on the reorganization, compiled by Sharon Morris, a former member of the Board of Scientific Counselors for NIOSH, points out that while NIOSH is the largest center within CDC, the CDC?s mission and focus already fail to include much about worker safety and health.
"The new CDC focus on health promotion during various life stages omits working, where we spend about 1/3 of our waking hours," writes Morris. Further lowering the agency's status, she concludes, will "make it considerably more difficult for NIOSH to fulfill its mission." 
 Letter to US HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, Jul. 8, 2004.
 American Association of Occupational Health Nurses, Inc (AAOHN) letter to CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding.
 US HHS letter, op. cit.
 CDC Reorganization Downgrades NIOSH fact sheet, compiled by Sharon Morris.
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