Safety Board Chief Remains in Place as Trump Reshapes Agencies

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By Sam Pearson

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board appears it will not become one of the numerous agencies and commissions facing swift early leadership swaps under President Donald Trump, attorneys and advocates tell Bloomberg BNA.

The Trump administration’s swift actions have swapped leadership at agencies and commissions across the board, but the president won’t be able to have a hand in molding the CSB in the first few months of transition, attorneys and advocates say. Though in theory a change could tilt the board more in favor of businesses.

Unlike most other government agencies, CSB members can’t be removed without reasonable cause, though there is precedent for the agency’s leadership to step aside in times of transition. At the same time, industry groups have not pushed for such a change, and the Trump administration would be wise to not “rock the boat that doesn’t need rocking,” a refining industry official familiar with the board told Bloomberg BNA. The official asked to remain anonymous because of ongoing litigation involving the CSB.

At a public meeting Jan. 24, CSB Chairwoman Vanessa Allen Sutherland said she discussed how the agency would “approach things like obtaining information about federal agency operations, specific agency work, [and] possible commissioner or board nominations in the future, but it was all very high level,” in a transition call with other small agencies.

Leadership changes at other agencies since Trump took office Jan. 20 have included the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission and the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission. But, Trump’s administration can’t make similar changes unilaterally at CSB, Mark Farley, an attorney at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP in Houston told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail.

“He can nominate a new member to the open seat, but I do not believe he can force Sutherland out of her role before her term ends,” Farley said.

Under the CSB’s authorizing legislation, the CSB chairman is also a board member, all five of whom must be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate for five-year terms. While the White House can remove a chairman or board member, the law states it must be for “inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office.”

Sutherland and Board Member Kristen Kulinowski’s terms run through August 2020, while board members Rick Engler and Manny Ehrlich’s terms expire in December 2019.

Past Practices

Former CSB Chairman John Bresland who was confirmed twice—first for a five-year term as a board member in 2002, and then again when former President George W. Bush tapped him to lead the CSB for an additional five-year term in 2008—stepped down in 2010 from his leadership position.

Bresland said in a statement it was because two board member positions were empty and “it seems appropriate that the new administration should also have the opportunity to select the chairman.”

He retired from the CSB in 2012 and is now a research fellow and president of a consulting firm.

Bresland and the White House did not respond to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment Feb. 1.

Under former President Barack Obama, the White House asked for the resignation of former CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso in March 2015 before the expiration of his five-year term. Moure-Eraso was accused of poor management contributing to low staff morale and delayed investigations.

Other board members have stepped in but only during a period in 2015 when the CSB had no confirmed chairman. CSB Board Member Mark Griffon later ran the agency after Moure-Eraso’s departure, and the White House later designated CSB Member Rick Engler as acting chairman from when Griffon departed to when Sutherland was confirmed in August 2015.

CSB Adds Staff Before Hiring Freeze

Before the federal hiring freeze instituted by Trump, the CSB hired Tom Zoeller, who will provide input to Sutherland in a role that appears modeled on that of the former managing director position.

That position is held by Daniel Horowitz, who has been on paid administrative leave since June 2015.

CSB spokeswoman Hillary Cohen said in an e-mail to Bloomberg BNA that Zoeller started work Jan. 17, just days before the new Trump administration issued a hiring freeze for federal agencies.

The CSB also hired a new human resources manager who started in early January, the agency previously said.

“CSB will continue to operate effectively following the change in administration and follow all applicable hiring practices,” Cohen said in an e-mail.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Pearson in Washington, D.C., at spearson@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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