Chemical Safety Board Chair Accused of Whistleblower Retaliation and Creating a “Toxic Environment”
Small and understaffed, the work of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has become even more challenging as a result of its leader’s unprofessional behavior, including retaliating against internal critics and creating a toxic work environment.
At the center of the agency’s firestorm is Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso, appointed by President Barack Obama four years ago.
Current and former board members as well as workers say Moure-Eraso has wreaked havoc at the 40-person agency, which investigates industrial chemical accidents.
A congressional investigation (pdf) concluded the former university professor ruined CSB’s workplace, turning it into an “abusive, toxic and hostile” environment.
The situation has been so bad inside the operation that at least nine veteran employees have quit since 2011, helping to exacerbate the agency’s backlog of investigations into chemical accidents. CSB’s investigations into two 2010 accidents—the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the Tesoro Corporation refinery fire in Washington State—each took four years to complete.
Board members also have left in disgust because of Moure-Eraso. Beth Rosenberg, appointed by Obama just last year, resigned due to CSB’s “level of dysfunction.”
“Those whose opinions differed from those of senior leadership or the chair are marginalized and vilified,” Rosenberg told lawmakers at a special hearing. “Disagreement is seen as disloyalty.” She added that the entire “agency is broken [and] needs to be rebuilt.”
Another former board member described Moure-Eraso as having a sort of “dual personality”—sometimes friendly and other times highly secretive, according to the House report.
Furthermore, another government probe discovered evidence of whistleblower retaliation at the hands of the CSB chairman.
Arthur Elkins Jr., inspector general for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, reportedly found that Moure-Eraso and board Managing Director Daniel Horowitz had used private emails to discuss “improper firing of agency employees or retaliation against those who have spoken out against the culture of the agency,” the Center for Public Integrity reported. The revelation prompted Elkins to open a new investigation within his department.
Testifying at the hearing, Elkins reported that Moure-Eraso has, for more than a year, repeatedly refused to turn over requested documents. All in all, said Elkins, the CSB chairman has “stonewalled the investigation.”
After hearing the many complaints from critics, Representative Darrell Issa (R-California), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight, pointedly said to Moure-Eraso that he should resign.
“I really believe it’s time you go,” Issa said.
To Learn More:
Leadership at Chemical Safety Board Questioned Amid Investigation Backlog (by Rosalind Adams, Center for Public Integrity)
'The Agency is Broken. It Needs to be Rebuilt' -- Former CSB Member (by Robin Bravender, Greenwire)
Whistleblower Reprisal and Management Failures at the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and Committee on Science, Space and Technology) (pdf)
Two Years after Richmond Fire, Feds Drop Proposal for Safety Overhaul (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)
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