It was only a year ago that the Reagan administration was restoring some cuts in the Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration before the ink on the president's fiscal 1983 budget was dry. That's one of the reasons the administration's proposed cut of $4.4 million and 244 jobs in that division took union officials by surprise.
Department officials say that, because of proposed new efficiencies in surface mine inspections, and because of a general drop in mining activity due to economic conditions, they will be able to do as good a job on less money.
But union officials lump this in the same bag as the changes being made at the Occupational Safety and Health Admininstration: that is, they say they believe it is a move toward a system of voluntary compliance on the part of industry.
"The cuts would have a dramatic effect on the entire enforcement program," said Joe Main, head of the United Mine Workers union's safety division.
"We were prepared for the cuts in some other programs," said AFL-CIO official Peggy Taylor, "but we were appalled and surprised by this. There is so little justification."
Overall, the 1984 Labor Department budget calls for outlays of about $34 billion, down about $9 billion from fiscal 1983. This year's figure includes $5.4 billion in outlays for employment, training and other labor services, down about $400 million from 1983.
(The bulk of the department's budget goes for "income maintenance" programs for workers, the main one being unemployment insurance compensation.)
Admininstration officials say there will be more bang for the buck in job training programs, because more money will be concentrated on actual training and less on other expenses, and because some of the administrative burden is being transferred to the states.
Some union officials were as critical of the way the budget was presented as they were of its numbers. "I've never seen a document that so dissembles, never seen this much game-playing," said AFL-CIO economist Rudy Oswald.
Most of the confusion centered around the job training area. President Reagan's budget message said, "Thus we will propose $3 billion more for education programs than was proposed last year, and almost $2 billion more for employment and training."
But back in the more detailed sections of the budget, it reads: "The budget includes $5.4 billion in estimated outlays for these activities in 1984, a reduction of $0.4 billion from the 1983 estimate of $5.8 billion."
As Oswald notes, the admininstration claims increases over its previous proposals, but these figures "are actually decreases when compared with what Congress actually did."
He added that, in the first two years of the administration, most of the budget cuts were clearly identified and the administration seemed almost proud of them. "This time," he said, "the cuts are hidden by statements claiming that they are increases."
See chart in original.