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July 31, 2020
CSB's continuing management challenges

The fiscal year (FY) 2020 report by the EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) on the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board’s (CSB) management challenges reveals that the board’s continued issues will impede its ability to effectively operate.

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The CSB was created under the Clean Air Act (CAA) Amendments of 1990 and is the independent federal agency charged with investigating all aspects of chemical incidents and hazards. The agency’s mission is to “drive chemical safety change through independent investigation to protect people and the environment,” according to the Agency’s website.

The board is responsible for “major budgeting decisions, strategic planning and direction, general Agency oversight, and approval of Agency investigation reports and studies,” according to the OIG report. “Board members may also participate in accident investigations. Individual board members oversee the investigation and report writing for each incident examined by the CSB. The board must approve all report findings, determinations of root cause, and safety recommendations.”

The OIG report reveals that the CSB is currently overwhelmed and hamstrung. CSB guidelines call for the Board to consist of one chairperson and four other members. The U.S. Senate confirmed a new CSB chairperson in March 2020.  However, due to term limits and resignations, as of June 2020, the chairperson was the only board member.

According to the report, “Having only one member impairs the function of the CSB, as all functions rest with that one member. CSB Order 028, Executive and Administrative Functions of the Board, delineates executive and administrative functions of the board, including specific authorities of the chairperson and duties of the board as a whole. The Order does not explicitly address a situation when the only member of the board is the chairperson.”

Obviously, one person is incapable of performing a workload designed for five people.

This management challenge is ongoing, as the OIG previously reported a shortage of board members in its FY 2019 report on the CSB. At that time, there were only three board members, whose terms expired in December 2019, February 2020, and August 2020, respectively. Confirmations of board members average 10.5 months to complete, according to the OIG report.

Another continued challenge for the CSB is the development of policy for board member responsibilities. This problem was first identified in the OIG FY 2018 report.

“Historically, the CSB has been plagued with leadership issues such as tension among board members, disputes over the Chairperson’s authorities, and complaints of alleged abuses by board members or the Chairperson,” according to the FY 2018 report. “The position of CSB Chairperson does not have the statutory authority to take corrective action against other board members for inappropriate behaviors or to hold them accountable.”

The board members of the CSB are presidential appointees, and changes to its policies must be enacted by Congress. The OIG FY 2018 report recommended that the CSB “strengthen its internal policies and also request that Congress assess these issues and make the necessary changes to provide the Chairperson with the authority to correct inappropriate or destabilizing behaviors by board members.”

The CBS agreed to develop new policies but decided that any new policies should be approved by its chairperson. Because a new chairperson has now been appointed, this challenge should be corrected this year, provided the chairperson has time to do so while operating as a one-man board.

The only new management challenge identified by the OIG in this year’s report is that the CSB must rely on internal controls “to continue operations to the extent practicable and to safely return employees to work at CSB facilities” during the coronavirus pandemic.

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