Lawmakers call for chemical board chairman to resign

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) called Thursday for the chairman of the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) to resign, an opinion shared by a bipartisan group of members on the oversight panel.

The call came during a hearing on allegations of dysfunctional management by Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso and accusations that he and his staff sought to silence whistleblowers and others who disagreed with him.

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“You really need to ask whether or not in your last year, you can really undo the damage of your first five,” Issa said.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said he had “serious questions about your fitness to hold your job.”

“It is clear that there are serious management problems that need to be addressed,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (Ga.), the panel’s top Democrat.

At the center of the hearing were allegations from CSB staff that an employee of the Office of Special Counsel had told top CSB officials the identifies of whistleblowers in 2012. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of the Inspector General, which also has authority over the CSB, investigated the issue, but agency staff did not provide requested materials.

In September 2013, the inspector general sent Issa a “seven-day letter,” which serves as last resort when an agency does not cooperate.

Issa’s staff launched its own investigation, which it published Thursday.

“The committee’s investigation of CSB revealed an agency in crisis, unable to properly function and serve its mission because of poor leadership and mismanagement,” Issa said. “Our investigation found the CSB chairman improperly exercises his responsibility, intimidates staff and undermines the well-established precedent that designates the board, not the chairman itself, as the agency’s ultimate authority.”

Moure-Eraso defended his actions and those of his agency. The CSB is charged with investigating major chemical incidents and publishing reports detailing the causes and recommending how to prevent future incidents.

“We are a very small agency charged with a huge mission of investigating far more accidents than we have the resources to tackle,” he said.

Issa strongly urged Moure-Eraso to comply with the inspector general's requests promptly, and threatened to subpoena the CSB if he did not.

“My intention if this is not resolved by the end of the week would be to issue my own subpoenas that would mirror all of the subpoenas that are outstanding and not properly responded to. They would have a one-week deadline,” Issa said. “If they are not responded to, we would seek to hold you in contempt and refer you for criminal prosecution.”

The hearing also featured Beth Rosenberg, who served on the board for only 17 months before resigning in May to protest Moure-Eraso’s management.

“I think the level of dysfunction reached such a level, and I had no hope of it improving,” she said. “There’s a theme in the agency that disagreement is disloyal.”