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EPA Inspector General report points out problems at Chemical Safety Board

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Photo: CSB

Washington — Agency leadership issues, limited staffing and ambiguous internal investigative protocol have interfered with the Chemical Safety Board’s “ability to accomplish its mission,” the Environmental Protection Agency Office of Inspector General says in a report issued Sept. 7.

In a letter to CSB members Steven Owens and Sylvia Johnson, Inspector General Sean O’Donnell writes that he commissioned a special review of the agency amid the announced resignations in May and June of Chair and CEO Katherine Lemos, CSB’s managing director and a senior advisor.

Lemos stepped down July 22, leaving CSB with three vacant seats. Owens, who was nominated in July to succeed Lemos, is interim executive.

According to the report, as of Aug. 1, 27 of CSB’s 44 approved, full-time positions were staffed. That includes 12 chemical incident investigators working on 17 open investigations. Five investigator positions are vacant.

“While we do not issue specific recommendations, our review led to the identification of action items the CSB board should consider as it develops a new strategic plan,” O’Donnell said in a press release.

Among the action items:

  • Improve the staff planning process to fully use allocated resources.
  • Refine human resources capabilities to recruit and onboard staff in a timely manner.
  • Update CSB’s succession plan to avoid mission interruptions after staff departures.
  • Update internal procedures on the report review process to provide clarity to all employees, especially new investigators.
  • Establish internal procedures and processes for other types of CSB products, such as desk investigations and factual updates.
 

Owens and Johnson addressed the EPA OIG report in a joint statement.

“The CSB appreciates the EPA inspector general’s report, and we agree that there is much work to be done to get this agency back on track. We already are taking steps to hire more investigators and other mission-critical staff, and we have streamlined the review process for investigation reports. We look forward to an ongoing relationship with the inspector general as we tackle the many challenges facing the agency.”

Owens’ nomination has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, as has the June nomination of Catherine J.K. Sandoval to serve as a member of the board. The committee will likely conduct confirmation hearings, either in tandem or separately, for both nominations at a date(s) yet to be determined.

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