PRESS RELEASE

Chemical Safety Board Chair’s Spending Spree – On Herself 

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For Immediate Release:  Tuesday, May 11, 2021
Contact:  Kirsten Stade kstade@peer.org

Chemical Safety Board Chair’s Spending Spree – On Herself

Trump Holdover Consolidates Control to Preempt Biden Appointees

Washington, DC — A Trump appointee leading the federal agency charged with investigating and preventing industrial explosions and other chemical accidents is spending large amounts of taxpayer funds on airfare, hotels, new furniture, and other expenses, charges Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  At the same time, that appointee, Katherine Lemos, has changed agency rules to limit the powers of Biden appointees once they are confirmed.

Appointed by President Trump and confirmed in late March 2020, Lemos is the sole member of the five-member U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB). During her first few months in office, agency records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show she –

  • Charged taxpayers $33,000 for travel, primarily from her home in San Diego, California (where there are no CSB assets) to DC.  Besides airfare, expenses include hotel bills, including several nights at DC’s Park Hyatt, which describes itself as a “luxury boutique hotel.” Such stays appear to violate the rule against paying for lodging within 50 miles of the employee’s duty station.  Notably, one trip was for her and her husband to attend an RNC-sponsored Trump Christmas party;
  • Ran up nearly $20,000 in office renovations, including $9,000 in new furniture.  This tab well exceeds the $5,000 cap on office renovations for federal officials; and
  • Hired two senior aides on a noncompetitive basis at undisclosed salaries, including a Senior Advisor from Northrup Grumman, where Lemos used to work, even as the CSB has only 11 investigators, down from 20 just six years earlier.

“Chairwoman Lemos is running up big expenses at a very small agency – expenses that benefit her personally but have no demonstrable impact on industrial safety,” stated PEER General Counsel Paula Dinerstein, pointing out that her spending practices run counter to past CSB chairs who paid their own expenses to travel to DC, including lodging, and used the standard furniture provided to all employees.  “Hasn’t Katherine Lemos ever heard of Zoom?”

On April 1st, Lemos finalized a new “Board Order” which gives her sole authority over all CSB spending (including travel, ironically), budget preparation, and administrative functions, even after other Board Members are sworn in. It also confers on her complete control over release of information, including a new power to bring “misconduct” charges against colleagues.  President Biden’s nominees for three new CSB Board slots are awaiting Senate confirmation.

“Despite the CSB mission, Ms. Lemos has no chemical industry experience nor do any of her entourage of ‘senior’ hires,” added Dinerstein, noting that she has served only one year of her five-year term but may be removed at any time by the President for “neglect of duty”, per the CSB’s authorizing statute. “Katherine Lemos is simply one appointee on a federal board of five members, not the Empress of Russia.”

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See some of the expense accounts 

View the federal office renovation cap 

Examine depleted state of CSB investigative capacity 

Look at Lemos’ new unilateral authority