Bipartisan fury rains on leader of ‘dysfunctional’ industry watchdog

By Robin Bravender | 03/04/2015 12:58 PM EST

House watchdogs are intensifying their efforts to oust the embattled Chemical Safety Board chairman.

"This is a dysfunctional, unfair and unproductive organization," House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) told CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso at a hearing today, where lawmakers on both sides of the aisle took turns berating Moure-Eraso’s leadership. "There is something rotten to its core, and it is you."

Chaffetz said he thinks Moure-Eraso, who plans to retire when his five-year term ends in June, "should be fired." But he prodded the chairman today, "Have the decency to actually step down and move this government forward."

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The committee chairman isn’t the only one reiterating calls for Moure-Eraso’s resignation. Moure-Eraso appeared before the panel nine months ago, when lawmakers first urged him to leave his post amid accusations that he was running a highly dysfunctional agency (Greenwire, June 19, 2014).

Moure-Eraso has held on since then and said today he plans to stick around until his planned retirement in three months. "I have work to do," he told the panel.

But despite his claims that he’s made strides in improving the agency’s management since last year, Moure-Eraso’s critics on Capitol Hill argue that things have only gotten worse.

"My 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," Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said in his prepared remarks.

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.) also suggested that the chairman leave his job immediately. "I see no possible good for you personally, for the agency or the people we serve for you to serve one more day," he said.

Mark Griffon, a CSB board member who has worked with Moure-Eraso since 2010, told the panel today, "At this point, I’ve lost all confidence in the chairman."

Last July, House GOP lawmakers wrote a letter to President Obama, urging them to force a leadership change at the chemical agency (E&ENews PM, July 7, 2014).

Lawmakers remain furious about problems that surfaced in the hearing last year. Those include criticisms that top CSB officials have improperly used private emails to conduct government business, retaliated against whistleblowers, stonewalled agency watchdogs and created a toxic work environment that caused experienced staffers to flee the small agency.

A February 2015 report from an outside contractor, Vantage Human Resource Services Inc., produced some scathing findings about CSB. It showed that 80 percent of interviewees had "much frustration with top leadership" and that 80 percent of staff interviewed felt that "conflict among board members is having a negative impact."

Moure-Eraso was accused today of demoting the staffer who had interacted with Vantage on that report.

But Moure-Eraso said he had reason to believe that report had been tampered with to play down progress his agency had made. He said he has asked the EPA inspector general’s office, which also oversees CSB, to look into possible tampering with that report.

Lawmakers also expressed outrage over a move earlier this year by a newly appointed CSB board member, Manuel Ehrlich, to consolidate the power of the CSB chairman.

Connolly said in his prepared statement that he "may also expand the field of CSB officials that need to resign" to include Ehrlich, "who appears to have conspired with Chairman Moure-Eraso to jam through" a board order in January that consolidates the chairman’s power.

Moure-Eraso defended his tenure again today. He told the committee in his prepared testimony that he believes he’ll be leaving behind a "newly energized agency." He added, "I acknowledge my shortcomings while assuring you that my commitment to the mission of the CSB — preventing chemical accidents through top-quality investigations and recommendations — has never wavered for a moment" (E&E Daily, March 4).

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