On Sept. 3, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that John Howard, M.D., will return to his role as director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) effective immediately. He will serve the dual role of NIOSH director and World Trade Center Programs coordinator for HHS.
Howard currently is a distinguished consultant at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He served as NIOSH director from 2002 through 2008 and as coordinator of World Trade Center Health Programs from 2006 to 2008. In a controversial move that drew criticism from the safety and health community, then-director of CDC Julie Gerberding informed Howard in July 2008 that he would not be reappointed to the position. He will return to the NIOSH leadership role just over 1 year after leaving.
“Dr. Howard brings a wealth of administrative experience from his service in both state and federal governments and a long history of personal dedication and professional achievement to the field of occupational health and safety,” Sebelius said. “His leadership will serve NIOSH well in a time of unprecedented challenges and opportunities.”
In 2002, HHS began to administer $125 million that Congress set aside for screening and monitoring of more than 50,000 World Trade Center responders, recovery workers and volunteers, and recently expanded the program to include residents, students, and other non-emergency responders impacted by the 9/11 disaster. Howard was instrumental in the allocation and release of more than $390 million dedicated to treatment and in working with the medical and scientific communities to develop a plan to help those who are or became ill from 9/11.
“All workers should be protected against all known job and workplace hazards,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC director. “Dr. John Howard is one of the nation's leaders in occupational health and worker safety. He’s worked with the scientists, medical professionals and workers to effectively lead investigations into new and potential health hazards, and to address workplace health and safety concerns. Importantly, he brings to this position the dedication and passion needed to achieve the safest workplaces possible.”
Howard is board-certified in internal medicine, legal medicine, and occupational medicine. He also is admitted to the practice of medicine and law in the state of California and in the District of Columbia, and he is a member of the U.S. Supreme Court bar. He has written numerous articles on occupational health, law and policy, and serves as a professorial lecturer in environmental and occupational health in the School of Public Health and Health Services at The George Washington University.
ASSE, AIHA Welcome Howard’s Return
The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) and The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) rallied for Howard’s reappointment in 2008. Both organizations praised the decision to reinstate his leadership at NIOSH.
“ASSE is pleased that this administration has recognized the quality leadership of Dr. John Howard and appointed him to return to lead NIOSH,” said ASSE President C. Christopher Patton. “At NIOSH, he ably helped the talented professionals take their leadership roles in occupational safety and health and set a visionary direction for NIOSH that, with adequate resources, can address the rapidly changing risks in today’s workplaces.”
AIHA also welcomed Howard’s return and highlighted some of his accomplishments during his previous tenure at NIOSH:
- Establishing a “Research to Practice (r2p)” office to foster transfer and diffusion of NIOSH-generated knowledge to partners and stakeholders.
- Creating access to NIOSH research and results through the use of the Internet and electronic communications means resulting in increased stakeholder contact with and input provided to NIOSH scientists.
- Positioning NIOSH as one of the key partners in the National Nanotechnology Initiative by recognizing the early potential importance of nanotechnology.
- Assuring that NIOSH policy decisions were grounded in and based on sound science.
“Since the creation of NIOSH back in 1970, the agency has been well served by directors with an understanding, dedication and knowledge of occupational health and safety,” said Cathy Cole, AIHA president. “However, I believe I am safe in saying that never in the history of the Institute has a director been as successful and respected by partners and stakeholders as Dr. John Howard.”