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DOL Budget Increases Enforcement Funding Amid Other Cuts

February 1, 2010
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Despite an overall reduction of $300 million in discretionary spending, the Department of Labor will ask Congress for an increase in workplace enforcement funding of $67 million, or 4 percent, according to the budget it released on Monday, February 1.

In an online video statement and Q&A, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis also emphasized department funding for training and fair-hiring programs and a $50 million initiative that would promote paid-leave experiments on the state level.

The agency request for fiscal year 2011, which begins October 1, 2010, totals $117 billion. Of that amount, $14 billion is for non-mandatory spending, down from $14.3 billion in the previous fiscal year. The mandatory portion of the budget dropped from $157.8 billion in fiscal year 2010 to $102.8 billion in fiscal year 2011 due to an expected decline in unemployment insurance benefit payments.

The DOL portion is part of a $3.8 trillion administration budget that would result in a federal deficit of $1.267 trillion, or 8.3 percent of GDP, in the 2011 fiscal year.

Solis indicated that the $1.7 billion allocated in the DOL budget for worker protection programs would allow the agency to restore staffing to 2001 levels. Of the 350 employees that the department expects to add over the next fiscal year, 177 are investigators and other enforcement staff.

For instance, the Wage and Hour Division would receive $244 million in funding, a $20 million increase, and hire 90 new investigators. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration would get $573 million, an increase of about $14 million.

OSHA will add 25 new inspectors in 2011 and reallocate 35 to enforcement from a program that helps businesses comply with safety laws.

The OSHA workforce adjustment is the result of “very difficult budget choices,” Solis said in the online Q&A.

“We need to decide whether we will spend our limited resources on supporting those companies who really ‘get it,’ who are doing a great job at protecting their employees,” she said. “Or do we spend our scarce resources on companies that disregard workplace safety and allow workers to die in situations that could easily have been prevented?”

Through its budget priorities, the department also indicated that it is going to crack down on employers that define workers as independent contractors rather than employees. Critics say the move allows companies to pay lower wages and benefits.

As part of a joint initiative with the Department of Treasury, the DOL budget includes $25 million to target “misclassification” and hire 100 additional enforcement personnel.

American workers “can expect new protection, including an emphasis on curbing misclassification,” Solis said in the online video.

A Capitol Hill Republican criticized what he called an emphasis on punishment.

“This budget reflects a troubling trend toward punitive enforcement designed to demonize employers rather than promote consistent application of the laws that protect workers,” said Rep. John Kline, R-Minnesota and ranking Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee. “Particularly in a weak economy, the American businesses that provide the very jobs we need should not live in fear of the government.”

Ensuring health, safety and full pay at work is one part of creating what Solis calls “good jobs for everyone.” Another element involves providing Americans with training to develop their careers.

The DOL budget would establish a $108 million Workforce Innovation Fund. Financed by money redirected from other training programs for adult and laid-off workers, the initiative would develop apprenticeship and on-the-job training programs and catalyze public-private sector collaboration to train workers for local industry.

A similar initiative, a $154 million Youth Innovation Fund, would support summer and all-year work programs for unemployed young people. In addition, the DOL is proposing to spend $85 million for “green jobs” training.

Solis said that the $11.8 billion allocated for employment and training programs “is tied to reform.” The Workforce Investment Act, the law that governs the federal training system, is up for renewal this year.

“We support a reauthorized WIA that emphasizes streamlining service delivery, providing true one-stop shopping for high-quality services, engaging employers on a regional and sectoral basis, improving accountability and promoting innovation,” she said in the video statement.

Kline questions both the innovation funds and the green jobs effort, saying that the former lacks “a clear policy direction” and that the latter has a history of “being restricted to union affiliates.”

--Mark Schoeff Jr.

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