March 17, 2015

Senate Republicans Call On Obama To Demand Immediate Resignation Of CSB Chair

Two key Senate Republicans on safety and environmental issues are demanding President Obama immediately call for the resignation of Rafael Moure-Eraso, the chair of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) who has been roiled with controversy on Capitol Hill and in interactions with the agency’s inspector general (IG) over allegations of mismanagement, power abuse and whistleblower retaliation.

The fracas with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and executive branch oversight officials that has entangled Moure-Eraso – particularly in recent weeks – threatens to debilitate the administration of CSB at a crucial time as the board works to complete a series of investigations into chemical disasters and the likely ensuing recommendations to OSHA and other entities concerned with protecting chemical facility workers.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee that oversees CSB, and Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD), chair of the subcommittee on Superfund, waste management, and regulatory oversight, cited what they described as “failed practices” of Moure-Eraso and “the lack of credibility created by him and his leadership team at this important agency” as reasons for penning the March 12 letter.

They tell Obama in the letter that CSB “can no longer continue to operate credibly under this leadership, and it is therefore our recommendation that you ask for Chairman Moure-Eraso’s immediate resignation.”

The GOP senators go as far as to contend illegal activity in justifying the call for resignation. “There is no doubt that the CSB serves a critical public safety role. However … there is also no doubt that Chairman Moure-Eraso has lost the confidence of CSB staff, the EPA OIG, and Members of both parties in Congress,” they wrote. “While Chairman Moure-Eraso has confirmed he will step down at the end of his term in June, it is our strong view that restoring the public’s confidence in the CSB cannot wait that long. He has violated his oath of office. He has violated the law.”

A top CSB official told Inside OSHA Online that the agency declines to comment on the letter.

Recently House oversight members held a second hearing within a year to probe allegations of whistleblower reprisal and layered on top of previous allegations a new contention that abuse of power occurred at CSB through consolidation of authority within the agency chair. There is also a dispute over use of personal email for official CSB business and differences with the IG over what documents must be turned over.

At the House hearing there was a bipartisan call for Moure-Eraso’s ouster or his resignation or early retirement. Numerous parties, including Moure-Eraso, other board members of CSB and the IG’s office have formally weighed in on the controversy.

Inhofe and Rounds noted that CSB was created by the Clean Air Act and is an independent agency that serves a “vital role” in investigating industrial chemical incidents and issuing reports and recommendations to prevent future incidents. But they contended that since 2010, the CSB’s fulfillment of this mission has been “severely compromised” by the leadership of Moure-Eraso and his senior staff.

The letter outlines a series of events leading up to the current dispute.

The IG in September 2012 began investigating whether the identities of CSB whistleblowers had been unlawfully revealed to CSB leadership, the letter says. “In the course of this investigation, the EPA OIG requested documents from Chairman Moure-Eraso relating to complaints that CSB officials were using nongovernmental email accounts to conduct official CSB business. According to IG [Arthur] Elkins’ testimony before Congress in July 2014, ‘The CSB refused, and to this day continues to refuse, to provide the documents the EPA OIG requested and has determined are necessary for this investigation into those CSB activities.’ As IG Elkins concluded in his July 2014 testimony, Chairman Moure-Eraso’s refusal to comply with his repeated requests amounts to ‘disregarding the law that Congress wrote for the protection of taxpayers.'”

Elkins in February again testified before the House oversight panel, “this time verifying to Congress his belief that the Chairman and CSB senior staff had violated law,” the senators said.

The inspector general, they noted, confirmed that he has sent Obama the findings of his investigation containing the following conclusion: “There is evidence sufficient to support a conclusion that the Chairman and two of his senior officials violated the Federal Records Act, and implementing regulations, by using non-governmental email systems to conduct official government business and not capturing those emails in the CSB records system.”

Inhofe and Rounds said that finding is merely the latest development in a string of controversies, also citing that in June 2014, the final report of a joint congressional investigation found that CSB leadership under Moure-Eraso engaged in a “pattern of hostility toward career staff and whistleblowers” where CSB employees “fear retaliation” if they disagree with the chairman or other members of the leadership team; “manipulated and ignored agency regulations and protocols;” and displayed “utter disregard for the collegial tradition” of CSB, “effectively rendering the CSB unable to issue any recommendations and fulfill its mission.”

Inhofe and Rounds said in June 2014 that Moure-Eraso testified before the House oversight committee “and refused to commit to complying with the EPA OIG investigation.”

“Members of the committee from both parties expressed deep concern about the ability of the CSB to fulfill its public role under the leadership of Chairman Moure-Eraso,” they told Obama. “At this hearing, CSB Board Member Mark Griffon’s written testimony stated, ‘It is clear that management deficiencies — including an untenable turnover rate — have also contributed to the inefficiencies in completing investigations.’ Former CSB Board Member Beth Rosenberg also testified that, in her time on the CSB Board, ‘Those whose opinions differed from those of senior leadership or the Chair are marginalized and vilified. At the CSB, disagreement is seen as disloyalty. Criticism is not welcome and staff fear retaliation.'”

Inhofe and Rounds also noted to the president that the House oversight panel in March held another hearing on CSB. “At this hearing, Board Member Mark Griffon stated ‘At this point, I’ve lost all confidence in the Chairman.’ Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) stated that the CSB Chairman’s actions ‘shock the conscience’ that the ‘leadership has become dysfunctional’ and he asked the Chairman to ‘give some thought to taking an early retirement and letting this agency move forward.’ Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-MD) further stated that his ‘hope is that this morning’s hearing may finally cause Chairman Moure-Eraso to recognize that it is in the best interests of the CSB for him to immediately step down and allow the agency to make a complete break from its current state of scandal and disrepair[.]'”

Moure-Eraso still has more than three months left in his appointed term. Obama has already appointed as his successor Vanessa Sutherland, who awaits Senate confirmation. – Christopher Cole ()


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