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House committee seeks information on Chemical Safety Board management challenges

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Washington — Concerned about recent reports highlighting various difficulties that “may be undermining” the Chemical Safety Board’s “ability to protect American communities and workers,” a bipartisan delegation from the House Energy and Commerce Committee is calling on the agency to provide numerous operational and procedural updates.

In a letter dated May 20 and sent to CSB Chair and CEO Katherine Lemos, Committee Chair Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), ranking member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and four fellow lawmakers reference the committee’s “jurisdiction over chemical safety and the CSB.” Citing findings from recent reports from the Environmental Protection Agency Office of Inspector General, the authors express concern over “insufficient staffing for investigations, investigation backlogs, tensions among board members and employee dissatisfaction,” among other publicized challenges stemming from management concerns.

“We want to ensure that the CSB has the tools it needs during this time of transition to conduct and complete its important investigations,” the letter states.

The delegation makes five requests of Lemos, seeking feedback by June 10 on the following:

  • How many agency vacancies remain, including investigators, and whether current budget allocations are sufficient for filling the vacancies
  • Reasons for the investigation backlog, and a copy of the agency’s most recent investigation plan
  • Status updates on all open investigations, including the expected time frame for completing each investigation as well as whether any have been terminated or paused because of staffing and resource constraints
  • Why CSB failed to approve any recommendations during fiscal year 2020
  • The extent to which having a single board member, as well as resource and staffing challenges, have impacted the agency and its ability to effectively fulfill its mission

A CSB spokesperson confirmed to Safety+Health that the agency received the letter and “will be responding to the Energy and Commerce Committee staff in a timely fashion.”

The short-staffed CSB was a frequent target for elimination under the Trump administration and has operated with only one of its five board seats filled since May 1, 2020. Lemos, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, has since carried on as a self-described “quorum of one.”

On April 28, President Joe Biden nominated Sylvia Johnson, Steve Owens and Jennifer Sass to serve as members of CSB. If the Senate confirms the nominations, the trio will join Lemos on the board.

During a public business meeting April 2, CSB announced it had revised a board order on board member roles and responsibilities in response to criticism of the agency in reports from EPA OIG.

EPA OIG’s most recent report on CSB – issued in July – asserted that various management challenges, including the abundance of board vacancies and unclear policy on board member responsibilities, “will impede the ability of the CSB to function effectively.”

 

The revised board order outlines multiple board member responsibilities, including:

  • Voting on investigation reports, safety studies, special investigations and other board products related to chemical incidents and hazards
  • Voting on and advocating the resolution of safety recommendations to federal, state and local agencies; private organizations; and members of the public pertaining to reducing recurrences of chemical incidents
  • Voting on reports of cause or probable cause(s) of chemical incidents, reporting all necessary information, and making and advocating public safety recommendations
  • Proposing amendments in accordance with the product review process, to the extent possible and as desired, to any agenda item at least two days before any public meeting scheduled to consider that item
  • Preparing for and participating in site visits, as necessary or appropriate
  • Preparing for and participating in public hearings and other safety inquiries
  • Completing all training on schedule

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