White House to Call on Safety Agency Head to Resign

Members of both parties have called for the ouster of the Chemical Safety Board chairman.

President Obama plans to call on the head of the Chemical Safety Board to step down amid increasing congressional scrutiny over mismanagement and personnel trouble at the safety agency, according to multiple sources familiar with the decision.

An aide for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has held multiple hearings on CSB management, told National Journal that the White House had notified them of plans to call for the resignation of Rafael Moure-Eraso from the Chemical Safety Board.

The White House and the CSB did not respond to requests for comment.

Moure-Eraso has just about three months left in his five-year term as chairman of the CSB, the independent agency tasked with investigating chemical accidents and issuing recommendations to prevent them. His term has been marked by turmoil and charges that he has created a toxic environment for employees at the agency, and several members of Congress recently called for his ouster.

In a joint statement, Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said they were "pleased that the president has recognized the importance of making key changes with the Chemical Safety Board."

"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 next step for this federal agency," they wrote. "We remain hopeful that progress will continue to be made with regards to improving leadership and morale issues within the CSB."

Moure-Eraso was hauled before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee earlier this month to discuss an EPA Inspector General report that he and two top CSB officials had used personal email accounts for official business, in part to evade other CSB employees. Documents revealed at the hearing had found that the practice continued even after Moure-Eraso had assured Congress it had stopped, although CSB says they have complied with federal record-keeping laws.

The Oversight Committee also charged that a CSB employee had been removed from an outside contract and demoted after working with a consulting firm on a report that criticized management at the agency.

Following the hearing, a bipartisan group of 14 committee members wrote a letter to Obama saying that "CSB is in a state of turmoil" and calling on him to remove three top officials: Moure-Eraso, general counsel Richard Loeb, and managing director Daniel Horowitz. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe and Sen. Mike Rounds separately wrote to Obama asking him to remove Moure-Eraso.

Moure-Eraso's tenure has been dogged by charges that he has bungled the agency's mission and driven away staff members. Several senior investigators left the agency, citing a work environment that discouraged debate and sapped morale. Board member Beth Rosenberg even quit a year into a five-year term, later saying that she felt marginalized and demoralized.

There have been further questions about a board order passed in a late-night January meeting that wiped away several management reforms and appeared to consolidate power in the chairman's position, although the board member who introduced it said he was just streamlining the organization.

The White House this month nominated Vanessa Allen Sutherland, the chief counsel at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, to chair the CSB for a term that would begin in June.