GAO criticizes chem board's progress

The US Congressional Budget Office says the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board needs an inspector general to guard against waste and abuse. Modeled after the National Transportation Safety Board, the agency was created 2 years ago to investigate refinery and chemical plant accidents, but largely has been inactive due to conflicts on its board of directors.


Washington, DC�The US Congressional Budget Office says the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board needs an inspector general to guard against waste and abuse. Modeled after the National Transportation Safety Board, the agency was created 2 years ago to investigate refinery and chemical plant accidents, but largely has been inactive due to conflicts on its board of directors.

In a report, GAO said management changes earlier this year have helped CSHIB, but much remains to be done.

"The board's unique chemical safety mission must be accomplished by persuasion rather than through regulatory or legal powers," said GAO. "It is therefore incumbent upon the board to develop and consistently use policies and procedures that can help ensure objectivity and thoroughness.

"If the board is perceived as being either biased or incomplete in its investigative work, its effectiveness will be diminished or even lost. The board could better ensure objectivity if it had clear policies and procedures addressing issues such as potential conflicts of interest, substantive disagreements among investigation team members, the minority views of board members, requests for reconsidering aspects of issued reports, and external peer review in its investigative reports."

GAO suggested CSHIB borrow an inspector general part-time from another agency to ensure progress.

"The board is clearly at risk for fraud, waste, and abuse, as evidenced by its contracting expenditures of limited value, lack of basic policies and procedures, poor productivity, and governance and management conflicts. NTSB's experience suggests that such oversight would be most effective if a designated inspector general for the board had the authority to initiate investigations, follow up, and provide a hotline to report any allegations of suspected fraud, waste, or abuse."

Response
CSHIB board member Isadore Rosenthal responded to the GAO report on behalf of the other board members.

"We will continue to refine and improve our investigation protocol this fiscal year," said Rosenthal. "As part of this effort, we will consider implementing the additional policies and procedures that the GAO identified for ensuring impartiality and thoroughness in our investigations.

"Although we have not had written policies and procedures on the items the GAO identified, all three of the CSHIB's investigation reports have been highly praised for their objectivity and thoroughness."

Rosenthal said the CSHIB board also agrees with the need for an inspector general.

"We have sought assistance from the offices of inspector general at the departments of energy and the treasury. Although those attempts were unsuccessful, we will continue to seek assistance from an existing inspector general. As an interim step, we have posted information about the GAO's FraudNet at the CSHIB so that employees can easily report allegations of fraud, waste, abuse, or mismanagement of federal funds to an independent entity."

Rosenthal said, since January, the CSHIB general counsel has become the CEO and has focused resources on investigations. He said the board has identified three investigations for completion this fiscal year and has assigned the appropriate staff and approved contract support to ensure their completion. Rosenthal also said the board has hired two more investigators and reduced the budget for unneeded information technology projects and equipment by $1.3 million, most of which was reallocated for investigations.

He said CSHIB will hold a public meeting July 26 to discuss its revised incident selection criteria and its 5-year plan.

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