Two federal agencies are appealing recent decisions of the Office of Management and Budget to reject proposed studies of the health effects of dioxin on chemical workers and of whether public education campaigns about emergency medical services help reduce traffic deaths.
The two studies were among 13 proposed information-gathering projects scrapped by the OMB in October, according to a report to be released this week by OMB Watch, a private research group that tracks the agency's activities.
In an effort to reduce bureaucratic red tape and waste, the OMB was empowered by the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980 to review the data-collection practices of most federal agencies. But the OMB Watch study suggests that the budget office is using that power to "second-guess agency professionals, undercut congressional mandates and exclude the public" and to set agency policies, said Gary D. Bass, the group's executive director.
OMB Watch said that of the 248 proposals the OMB considered in October, it rejected 13, or 5 percent, and six others were withdrawn. Most of the rejected projects were new rather than renewals of past programs.
An OMB spokesman said he had not seen the OMB Watch report and could not comment.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health said yesterday it is appealing to the OMB to reverse its rejection of a plan to study the effect of dioxin, a deadly byproduct of pesticide production, on workers at a defunct Diamond Shamrock Corp. chemical plant in New Jersey and at a Syntex plant in Missouri.
Dioxin is already the subject of a study by the Center for Environmental Health among Vietnam veterans because it was a byproduct in the production of defoliant Agent Orange. Both the CEH and NIOSH are divisions of the federal Centers for Disease Control, which also maintains a "dioxin registry" that can be used to track the death rate of about 6,000 workers exposed to the chemical.
According to NIOSH industrial hygienist Philip Bierbaum, "OMB said there is already enough research going on and already conducted, but we believe that is not true." He said the proposed workplace study, unlike the other more limited studies, could establish "causal links" between various diseases and dioxin, which is considered an animal carcinogen and a potential human carcinogen.
Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has appealed OMB's rejection of a before-and-after study that would consider whether the use of emergency medical services are increased -- and deaths reduced -- by public service announcements or media advertising campaigns that promote the use of EMS programs. The OMB's action has blocked a proposed contract between DOT and a private consulting firm, ABT Associates.
The OMB also disapproved the extension of a Federal Communications Commission requirement that radio and television stations inform political candidates of their right to reply when the station endorses or opposes a candidate. The OMB rejected the rule because its "practical utility did not outweigh the paper work burden" of keeping track of such notices. The FCC has not decided whether to appeal, OMB Watch said.
The OMB also rejected a proposal by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to give "performance award" plaques to public housing agencies to honor successful programs. OMB Watch said OMB rejected the idea even though OMB itself gives performance awards that carry cash prizes that have exceeded $1,000.