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By Sam Pearson
June 3 — A key Chemical Safety Board official who worked closely with the board's former chairman remains in limbo nearly a year after being placed on administrative leave.
Daniel Horowitz, the board's managing director, received a notice of proposed removal last year from Board Member Kristen Kulinowski, but the action was never finalized by the board. As a result, Horowitz remains unable to formally dispute the personnel action or move on with his career, said Jeff Ruch, the director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which is representing Horowitz.
“I think what is most troublesome is the uncertainty,” Ruch said. “If somebody said, ‘You have a year off, take a sabbatical,' that would be great, but if you're told to go sit in the corner with a Sword of Damocles hanging over your professional head, that's not so great.”
Horowitz didn't respond to a request for comment by Bloomberg BNA.
Ruch told Bloomberg BNA he delivered an oral presentation to Board Chairwoman Vanessa Sutherland Dec. 10 on Horowitz's behalf and filed a written response to the notice of proposed removal.
However, because Sutherland didn't finalized the action, Horowitz cannot dispute it, Ruch said.
Board spokeswoman Hillary Cohen told Bloomberg BNA June 3 in an e-mail the agency could not discuss confidential personnel matters.
“Chairperson Sutherland continues to actively work towards a resolution,” Cohen said. “When you are dealing with complex employment matters it can take much longer than expected.”
Horowitz was placed on leave by then-Acting Board Chairman Rick Engler in June 2015 (45 OSHR 648, 6/25/15).
Another official, then-General Counsel Richard Loeb, was placed on leave the same day. Loeb retired from the board in December.
Both officials were accused of creating a toxic work environment and retaliating against whistle-blowers during Moure-Eraso's leadership. The White House requested Moure-Eraso's resignation in March 2015 after complaints from members of Congress about his conduct (45 OSHR 336, 4/2/15)(29 RKPG 25, 4/2/15)(39 CRR 371, 3/30/15)(60 Occupational Safety & Health Daily, 3/30/15)(59 DEN A-6, 3/27/15)(59 DER 59, 3/27/15).
In November, Kulinowski issued a notice of proposed removal to Horowitz. The notice included 10 charges of misconduct, including allegedly retaliating against then-Human Resources Director John Lau.
Lau has since left CSB and his name is no longer listed on the agency's website.
Horowitz earned a salary of $158,700 during fiscal year 2015, according to a database of federal employee salaries, while Loeb took home $183,300. Their combined pay was more than 3 percent of the small agency’s budget.
The departures threaten to hamstring the board's effectiveness, observers say.
Ruch said the agency's decision not to deploy to new incident sites since early 2015 shows that, “There doesn't appear to be a heck of a lot of activity at the CSB.”
But other stakeholders defended the agency's new approach.
“It's not OK,” Michael Wright, the health and safety director at the United Steelworkers union, told Bloomberg BNA, “but it's not the CSB's fault.”
Wright added it was appropriate to keep Horowitz off the job given the accusations against him.
“I'd rather have him collect a salary and not do work than collect a salary and do work for the CSB,” Wright said.
The board is not the only agency to see staff on paid leave for long periods of time.
The Environmental Protection Agency found in 2014 eight workers had racked up almost 21,000 hours of administrative leave, costing more than $1 million (52 GERR 1334, 11/25/14)(45 ER 3384, 11/21/14)(224 DEN A-1, 11/20/14)(224 DER A-13, 11/20/14). And the Government Accountability Office has found more than 57,000 federal employees have taken more than one month of administrative leave during fiscal years 2011 to 2013 (52 GERR 1224, 10/28/14)(205 PBGCN, 10/23/14)(203 DLR A-6, 10/21/14).
The House in April approved the Administrative Leave Reform Act (H.R. 4359) to limit the use of administrative leave (47 ER 1331, 4/29/16)(81 DEN A-15, 4/27/16)(38 WLPM, 4/27/16)(See previous story, 04/27/16).
That bill would cap administrative leave to no more than 14 days unless extraordinary circumstances exist. It would let agencies extend administrative leave for employees deemed “a threat to safety, the agency mission, or Government property.”
Agencies turn to administrative leave “far too often,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said on the House floor April 26, and the practice has no statutory definition.
The Senate also is considering a related proposal, the Administrative Leave Act (S. 2450).
Jason Briefel, the interim director of the Senior Executives Association, said these situations harm agencies, taxpayers and employees.
“This is an issue that needs to be addressed,” Briefel said.
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