"Those whose opinions differed from those of senior leadership or the chair are marginalized and vilified," Rosenberg said. "At the CSB, disagreement is seen as disloyalty. Criticism is not welcome and staff fear retaliation."
The CSB is an independent agency created in 1998 to investigate chemical disasters — everything from the plant explosion in West, Texas, to the BP oil spill — and issue recommendations to private companies and government agencies to prevent future incidents. But it's been beset by a long backlog. Between 2010 and 2012, only 11 of 31 planned investigations were completed, including only two investigations being completed in 2012.
"We are a very small agency charged with a huge mission of investigating far more accidents than we have the resources to tackle," said Moure-Eraso, who has served since 2010. The board normally has five members but presently has just two, although two more have been nominated by the White House.
But the Oversight Committee has charged that it was management issues — many rooted with Moure-Eraso — that have led to staff members leaving, compounding the backlog. An 84-page report featuring 10 interviews with current and former staff members describes "serious management deficiencies."
Particularly at issue was the treatment of the general counsel's office — the report alleges that Moure-Eraso hired counsel Richard Loeb without approval of the rest of the board, then sought to push out then-counsel Chris Warner. Warner was later reassigned, a move that Moure-Eraso said was not a demotion.
The incident created a "tense and conflicted time" among the board, according to managing director Daniel Horowitz, and several investigators left.
The report also accuses Moure-Eraso and Horowitz of "micromanaging" investigations and forcing investigators out, stalling ongoing reports like a high-profile investigation into a Tesoro refinery fire in Washington state that took four years to complete.
It's not the first time the board's management has come under fire. A July 2013 IG report noted a lack of "defined performance indicators," an investigator turnover rate of 15 percent, and out-of-date policies as contributing to an investigative backlog. In a letter to the Oversight Committee on Wednesday, California Democrat Henry Waxman, who was involved in establishing the board, described his work with the board to improve decision-making and planning.
Moure-Eraso's confrontational style has been on display before. In hearings after the West, Texas, explosion, he fired off against the Environmental Protection Agency, pointing out "many large holes" in enforcement. And at one of his CSB's meetings last July, he aggressively overruled a request by two other board members to hold a planning meeting on the investigation backlog.
Rosenberg relayed the latter incident to the committee, saying the absence of a plan contributed to "low staff morale" and that the meeting created a tense atmosphere.