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A former senior official with California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) filed a whistleblower complaint claiming the department overseeing the agency is misusing state and federal funds, possibly illegally.

Garrett Brown, former special assistant to the head of Cal/OSHA, filed the complaint with the California State Auditor, asking for a forensic audit of how the Department of Industrial Relations, the state agency that oversees Cal-OSHA , managed funds meant for the worker protection agency. Brown writes that he has “deep concern about improper, possibly illegal, diversion by the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) of federal and state funds” he claims are supposed to go to Cal-OSHA but are instead going to pay for other things, such as rent on empty office space. Brown retired in January after a 20-year career with Cal-OSHA, 17 of them as a safety engineer. In February Brown claimed in a twenty-page report that Cal-OSHA is failing to protect California’s workers because of a “starvation diet” that is causing severe understaffing.

The complaint alleges that millions of dollars in state money meant to fund Cal-OSHA workers are sitting idle and not being allocated to the agency. Cal/OSHA draws no funds from the state’s General Fund but rather receives money from Fed OSHA and from special state funds collecting money from employers. The main state fund – the Occupational Safety and Health Fund – has registered positive balances of more than $20 million every year for the last three years – money that could have been used to protect California workers, but has been left idle. The OSH Fund will receive an extra $8 million in the current state fiscal year. The OSH Fund is collected automatically every year and is designated for the sole purpose of supporting Cal/OSHA and protecting workers.

Brown complains about “severe understaffing.” In December 2013, Cal/OSHA had only 170 enforcement field inspectors (called Compliance Safety and Health Officers or CSHOs) for the state’s 18.6 million workers. This is below the 190 CSHOs on board at the end of the Schwarzenegger Administration in 2011 and fewer than the 253 California Fish and Game Wardens in the field. The ratio of inspector to worker is worse in California (1 inspector to 109,000 workers) than Fed OSHA’s ratio (1to66,000) and much worse than Washington State (1 to 33,000) or Oregon (1to28,000).

Brown also questions why Cal/OSHA is on a “starvation diet.” He claims that the political decision to not provide Cal/OSHA with the existing funding and staffing levels it needs to do its job comes from Governor Brown’s “small government, austerity forever” approach and DIR Director Baker’s “new paradigm” that prioritizes “compliance assistance” and partnerships with employers over enforcement of workplace health and safety regulations. The Governor’s proposed 2014/15 budget does not even reach the year 2000 levels of enforcement staffing.

Brown says he is asking the state auditor to investigate the DIR because it has not been transparent when it comes to fiscal matters. “Only trained accountants familiar with state operations and procedures will be able to penetrate what has been an opaque ‘black box'” of Cal/OSHA finances under DIR, he argues in the complaint.

DIR spokesman Peter Melton declined to comment on Brown’s allegations. The state auditor’s office did not return calls seeking comment.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a whistleblower group Brown is associated with, filed a complaint based on his report with the US Department of Labor asking it to sanction Cal-OSHA for allegedly failing to meet worker protection standards.