Federal agencies

Adding investigators a ‘top priority’, new Chemical Safety Board chair says

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Washington — Still without a quorum after the resignation of one of two remaining members, the Chemical Safety Board also is contending with an investigative staffing shortage that has prompted the agency to temporarily halt two investigations.

Speaking during an April 29 CSB business meeting – her final one as a board member before stepping down May 1 – Kristen Kulinowski said the agency is “looking to hire at least 10 more investigators” and is “vetting some of the candidates now.”

Kulinowski, who served as interim executive authority until the Senate confirmed Katherine Lemos as CSB chair and CEO on March 23, said the agency has seven investigators and 13 open investigations. Lemos called the search for additional staffing a “top priority.”

Lemos, whose nomination was approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in September, opened the meeting with remarks about her new role, saying she is “thrilled to serve both the agency and the American public in this capacity.”

Lemos takes the reins amid agency uncertainty. Kulinowski’s five-year term was slated to end in August, but her resignation, announced by CSB on April 27, again leaves the agency with questions about its operation. The terms of former board members Manuel Ehrlich and Rick Engler concluded in December and February, respectively. Before Ehrlich’s departure, CSB had operated with only three of its five seats filled – and without a permanent chairperson – since Vanessa A. Sutherland resigned from the top post in June 2018.

Asked during the public comment portion of the meeting about a timetable for adding new members and protocol for functioning with only one board seat filled, Lemos said the comment would be placed on the meeting record for response.

“If I had specific information today, we would provide it,” Lemos said, “but we are working through those details.”

 

Long a target for elimination under the Trump administration, CSB was started in 1998. The agency is operating with a budget of $12 million during fiscal year 2020 and in February submitted to Congress a FY 2021 budget request of $13.5 million, Kulinowski said.

“The CSB has requested these additional funds to satisfy increases in employment, as well as investigative costs,” Kulinowski said.

The meeting closed with parting thoughts from Kulinowski, who has tweeted she will pursue an opportunity outside government. She thanked colleagues and staff before urging CSB and those on the call to “continue to envision a nation safe from chemical disasters.”

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