Personal Email Use in Oversight Committee's Sights

Hearing on Chemical Safety Board could be preview of Clinton probe

(L-R), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) confer with each other during a House Oversight Committee hearing entitled 'Reviews of the Benghazi Attack and Unanswered Questions,' in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, September 19, 2013 in Washington, DC. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) is continuing to lead the GOP investigation of the Sept. 11, 2012, assaults that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. (National Journal)

As Washington continues to buzz about revelations that Hillary Clinton used personal emails while secretary of State, the House Oversight Committee will scrutinize the chair of an embattled safety agency for the same offense.

According to an EPA Inspector General's report, Chemical Safety Board Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso deliberately used a personal address to conduct official business, a violation of the Federal Records Act. The report says Moure-Eraso and two top officials were using personal accounts to evade other CSB employees.

Moure-Eraso is set to testify Wednesday about the email accounts and other management issues alongside the three other sitting members of the board in what could offer a preview of the treatment Clinton will get regarding her email use.

According to released testimony, the members will also discuss other management problems at the independent agency, which investigates chemical accidents and issues recommendations on safety measures. That includes a controversial board motion that consolidated power in the chairman's hands.

A New York Times report Monday found that Clinton used a personal email address during her four years at State, which left her correspondence off federal records. Critics have pounced on the revelation, accusing the former secretary of sidestepping transparency measures and covering up controversial decisions.

In a statement on the Clinton disclosures, Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah,  cited the subject of Wednesday's hearing. "Violations of the Federal Records Act within federal agencies is something we take very seriously," he said. "In fact, the committee will be reviewing similar violations of this act "¦ during a hearing on the Chemical Safety Board."

According to the report from the Environmental Protection Agency IG—which oversees the CSB—Moure-Eraso, General Counsel Richard Loeb and Managing Director Daniel Horowitz used personal accounts to discuss some personnel matters and management questions. Moure-Eraso said in the report the move was due to a "hostile environment" within CSB and because he did not trust the sitting general counsel.

In prepared testimony, Moure-Eraso does not directly address the IG report or questions about his personal email use, although he does acknowledge criticisms of the agency's morale during his tenure. Moure-Eraso's tenure, which ends in June, has been dogged by complaints about morale issues and a stream of experienced staff members leaving the agency.

Acknowledging that the Oversight Committee has been "critical" of his time at CSB, he says he was "humbled" by a hearing last summer in which he was called on to resign.

"I feel some of the criticisms of the way in which I have attempted to steer the course of the agency have been unfounded, from my perspective," he will say. "But as I said, I do take to heart the concerns of this committee, and to that end I stand committed to work collegially with my fellow board members until June 24 and continue these improvements and the fine work of the CSB."

The White House on Tuesday nominated Vanessa Allen Sutherland, the chief counsel at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, to chair the CSB. According to the White House, that would be for a term beginning when Moure-Eraso's expires, and he is expected to serve out the remainder of his term.

Other board members, however, are critical of Moure-Eraso, in particular a recent action that appeared to wipe out a number of reforms and place more power over spending and hiring in the chair. Board member Mark Griffon will testify that he was given no notice of the 22-page motion "which included fundamentally modifying the governance of the agency" before the late-night vote.

"This was a shock to everyone in the agency and a further blow to employee morale," Griffon's testimony states. He also calls for the order to be rescinded.

In statements and in his own testimony, board member Manny Ehrlich, who introduced the motion, has defended it as a move to streamline agency functions. "The agency needs to function in a more business-like way, with clearer lines of accountability, responsibility, and authority," the testimony states, adding that he'd like to "move forward, not look back."

Griffon, whose term also ends in June, also touches on the lack of progress on management problems identified by former Rep. Henry Waxman, charging that change needs to come from the top.

"In the last year, no management changes have been proposed to address the timeliness of completing investigations or employee morale," Griffon's testimony states. "It is clear that the agency continues to deflect and defend rather than reflect and reform."