Chairman of 'grossly mismanaged' Chemical Safety Board resigns

Rafael Moure-Eraso had been under pressure to quit from lawmakers and others

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Updated: 2:36 p.m., March 27, 2015

Felled by charges of mismanagement, the chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board has resigned.

The departure of Rafael Moure-Eraso was first reported on the board’s Twitter account Thursday evening. In a prepared statement Friday morning, Moure-Eraso said, “It has been a privilege to serve the agency since June 2010. My wishes are for the continued success and productivity of the Board.” Moure-Eraso’s five-year term as chairman was to have ended in June. He will remain on the board as a regular member until mid-April, a spokeswoman said.

The board is an independent agency modeled after the National Transportation Safety Board. It issues recommendations to regulatory agencies following industrial accidents.

Nearly two years ago, the Center for Public Integrity published a lengthy piece describing the slow pace of board investigations and reports of sinking staff morale. A former board member told the Center the board was "grossly mismanaged." The Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general has been investigating board officials’ use of personal email accounts for agency business, a violation of the Federal Records Act.

In recent weeks, members of Congress had stepped up cries for the chairman’s ouster. On Wednesday, the chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said the board was “in desperate need of new leadership...Dr. Moure-Eraso’s mismanagement of the CSB, abuse of power, employee retaliation, and lack of honesty in his communications with Congress are among the many reasons why his resignation is the right step for this federal agency.”

In a March 18 letter, 14 members of the committee asked President Obama to remove Moure-Eraso and two other top board officials – Managing Director Daniel Horowitz and General Counsel Richard Loeb – from their positions. The board spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment on Horowitz’s and Loeb’s status.

On March 3, Obama nominated Vanessa Allen Sutherland to become board chairman when Moure-Eraso’s term expired. Sutherland has been chief counsel for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration since 2011.

Mike Wright, director of health, safety and environment for the United Steelworkers, said by phone Friday that "the president did the right thing" in asking for Moure-Eraso's resignation as chairman. "I don't really want to dwell on the past. I think what we really have to do now is work as effectively as we can to make sure the new board can really go back to the kind of organization that it was ... under some of the previous board chiefs."

Of Sutherland, Wright said, "We’ve not talked to her yet. But I’ve looked at some things on her background and it’s quite impressive. So, we would like to talk to her before the congressional hearings and hope to do that in the next couple of weeks."

Bill Wright, who served as a board member from 2006 to 2011, said Moure-Eraso's departure as chairman was "long overdue." However, he said, Horowitz and Loeb contributed to the board's inability to finish investigative reports in a timely fashion. "Whether it was one of them or all three of them, the agency hasn't made any progress on reports," Bill Wright said. At its most recent public meeting, in January, the board terminated three investigations, each of which had been open for at least five years. At the time, board member Manny Ehrlich said there was "no realistic opportunity" to issue reports on those cases.

Talia Buford contributed to this story.

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