Current NIOSH Associate Director Christine Branche, Ph.D., will serve as acting director until a new director is named.

According to CDC, Howard has agreed to a short-term assignment as senior advisor to the CDC director to ensure that World Trade Center activities are effectively managed during the transition.

A statement from CDC read, “During his six years of service, Dr. Howard was very attentive in addressing the concerns and needs of NIOSH stakeholders and he has worked diligently on many challenging issues. We thank him for his service to the country.”

The announcement, however, has raised criticism from the safety and health community.

"Dr. Howard's dismissal is just the latest, but most glaring, of Dr. Gerberding’s missteps in her stewardship of NIOSH,” said ORC Senior Vice President Frank White in a statement. “Her decision to allow Dr. Howard's term as NIOSH Director to lapse in the face of uniform praise for his work and enthusiastic support for his reappointment among the broad range of stakeholders may serve her personal agenda but does not serve the best interests of the American worker.”

Trippler: Decision is “Baffling”

“I find it baffling he was not reappointed,” said Aaron Trippler, director of government affairs for the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), during an interview with OccupationalHazards.com. “But it’s also not surprising.”

Trippler alluded to possible tension between Howard and Gerberding as a factor in the decision. “He and Gerberding probably did not get along,” Trippler said. “It’s not surprising she did not reappoint him.”

The timing of Howard’s departure is further complicated by the upcoming presidential election and possible future administration changes. Trippler said he was concerned that losing Howard as NIOSH director will create even more turbulence during a transitional period.

“I suspect we’re going to see some changes for next year. Obviously, we’re going to see some changes in the Department of Labor,” Trippler said. “That’s why I think it would have been absolutely imperative to keep the status quo at NIOSH.”

“Let’s face it, this administration has not made occupational health and safety a priority,” Trippler added. “My opinion is the best way to show the occupational health and safety community [it is a priority] is to reappoint Dr. Howard because he is doing the job we appointed him to do.”

In recent months, AIHA and the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) separately urged President George W. Bush to renew Howard’s NIOSH appointment. See ASSE Urges Bush to Reinstate Howard as NIOSH Head and AIHA Calls for Howard’s Reappointment as NIOSH Director for more information.