The new chairwoman of a federal agency that investigates major industrial accidents has an unusual problem: she’s the only person on its five-member board, and President
Katherine Lemos said she plans to continue the
In her first interview since taking office, Lemos vowed to get the roughly 35-person agency with a checkered-past “off the problem child list,” while promising to be tough on chemical and petroleum industries it oversees.
“I’m not afraid of making recommendations that some people will be less pleased with,” said Lemos, a Republican.
But the resignation May 1 of former interim chair
Typically, government commissions and boards need a majority of members present to conduct business. Lemos, citing a legal opinion from the agency’s general counsel, contends she can proceed on her own. She intends to announce her plan to do so at the agency’s next board meeting in September.
“The president is really starving many important agencies, offices and boards of the leadership they need to function efficiently and function well,” said Hempowicz.
The FEC, which monitors campaign finance and other election laws, briefly had a quorum after Trump appointee James Trainor joined the agency in mid-May. But another Republican member resigned in late June, again leaving it unable to act.
“The White House always seeks to fill critical vacancies with qualified candidates who support the mission of the agency,” the White House said in statement.
The Chemical Safety Board became operational in 1998 and has investigated incidents ranging from
A 2014 congressional probe said the safety board was in disarray and had an “abusive and hostile work environment” that had spurred several staff to resign. It’s also been rapped for moving too slowly on its investigations.
Among its 13 still-open investigations is a June 2019 explosion and massive fire at
‘State of Turmoil’
In each of his annual budgets Trump has proposed eliminating the agency, currently funded at $12 million -- a move a spokesman for the United Steelworkers union last year
Still, Lemos, 52, who has worked in safety-focused roles at the
“The administration put me in here for a reason, and they gave me the mandate to make this a strong agency,” she said.
A July Inspector General report cast doubt on her plan to carry on the board’s work solo, saying that the “regulatory language lacks clarity” on the matter, and that doing so “impairs the CSB mission for reasons of both workload management and separation of duties.”
Lemos has had bipartisan support. Her nomination was supported unanimously by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and she was
“We were pleasantly surprised by her selection,” said
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