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EPA OIG report pinpoints CSB’s top management challenges

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Photo: Environmental Protection Agency

Washington — Chemical Safety Board vacancies, expiring member terms and unclear responsibilities are among the challenges “that, if not addressed, may impede [CSB’s] ability to efficiently and effectively achieve its mission or meet its goals,” the Environmental Protection Agency Office of Inspector General states in a new report, issued May 20.

The agency has operated with only three of its five board seats filled – and without a permanent chairperson – since Vanessa A. Sutherland resigned from the top post in June 2018. The terms of the sitting board members, including interim Executive Authority Kristen Kulinowski, are set to expire in December, February and August 2020, respectively. New members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

“It is clear,” the report states, “that allowing the board to reduce to one or zero members will deeply impair the ability of the board to conduct such critical business as deciding which investigations to open and the finalization of reports. The actions necessary are outside the control of the CSB. If the CSB is to complete its mission and goals, under its current authority, the president must nominate new members and the Senate must confirm the members prior to February 2020.”

CSB’s other challenge, EPA OIG contends, is a lack of guidance on board member responsibilities. The report listed this concern as a continuing challenge despite observing improvement, noting that CSB hasn’t completed interim actions it agreed to take as a follow-up to a previous report.

“In FY 2018, we reported that there were multiple instances when a board member acted inconsistently with established practices or inappropriately provided information to outside entities,” the report states. “In December 2018, the board reported to us that there have been no new incidents.”

Several CSB personnel interviewed attributed the progress to “better communication among staff and board members,” according to EPA OIG.

 

Congress has continued to fund CSB despite financial and existential uncertainty. President Donald Trump’s FY 2019 budget proposed eliminating the agency, and the EPA OIG Annual Plan for FY 2019 reasoned that such suspicion has hindered CSB’s ability to attract, hire and retain staff.

The most recent report did not include that concern as a challenge, however, citing recent bipartisan support for the agency from congressional committees as well as CSB reporting that it can attract, hire and retain staff.

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