How Do Regulatory Agencies Fare in Obama’s Budget?

President Obama’s FY 2010 budget proposal, released yesterday, makes major investments in a few agencies critical to protecting the public but shortchanges others. Let’s dive in.

Food Safety

As promised, the Food and Drug Administration would enjoy a significant increase in resources. The agency’s total budget would top $3 billion for the first time – a 14 percent increase from FY 2009 levels. For food safety specifically, Obama’s budget calls for $783 million – a whopping 20 percent increase.

But the government’s other major food safety agency, USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service, would receive only a four percent increase. More importantly, the budget calls for only 25 new employees. FSIS has a resource intensive mission: it is responsible for inspecting every head of cattle and every chicken destined for store shelves. The agency has high vacancy rates in some regions while constantly facing an increasing workload.


The Environmental Protection Agency would also see a big funding boost. Obama is proposing to raise EPA’s total budget to $10.5 billion from $7.8 billion in FY 2009. According to some of the material put out by OMB, the budget would make a major investment in clean water.

On the other hand, there’s the budget proposal for the Fish and Wildlife Service. Despite an extra $55 million in stimulus funds, Fish and Wildlife would see an overall drop (about six percent from FY 2009) under Obama’s proposal.

Fish and Wildlife’s responsibilities include listing and protecting endangered species. Since the Bush administration’s record on species protection was abysmal, there is a queue of species waiting to be attended to by agency officials.

Worker Rights and Safety

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration would see a seven percent increase in FY 2010 under Obama’s plan. That includes double-digit percentage increases for the standard setting unit and for the federal enforcement of those standards.

The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, which enforces worker rights issues such as minimum wage, overtime, and child labor, would also see an increase – about 18 percent above FY 2009 levels.

However, Obama is proposing only a two percent increase at the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Consumer Safety

Obama’s budget is least impressive when it comes to consumer safety. I have already voiced my concern with the budget proposal for the Consumer Product Safety Commission (previous post here) which calls for less than a two percent increase. Looking at the detailed proposal released yesterday, I was heartened to see that it calls for 47 new employees, about a ten percent increase. But any hiring progress is likely due to big budget increases in FY 2008 and FY 2009. If Obama’s proposal is adopted, hiring may slow yet again in a year or two.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – an agency responsible for, among other things, setting vehicle safety standards – does not fare well either. Obama is proposing only a two percent increase at NHTSA, and the proposal calls for zero new staff positions. NHTSA’s budget may be conservative because “the Administration is working to develop a comprehensive approach for surface transportation reauthorization,” according to the proposal.

So there you have it. (For more, today’s Wall Street Journal also has a story on this issue.) Last year, OMB Watch analyzed long-term budget trends at several of the agencies mentioned above. The overall conclusion was that almost every regulatory agency suffers from a lack of resources, and that lack of resources can threaten their ability to protect the public. Bottom line: Obama's budget proposal would make significant progress at some major agencies; but that progress is muted, albeit slightly, by inattention at other agencies.

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