PRESS RELEASE

Chemical Safety Board Goes on Crony Binge

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For Immediate Release:  Thursday, January 14, 2021
Contact:  Kirsten Stade kstade@peer.org

Chemical Safety Board Goes on Crony Binge

Disgraced Ex-Louisiana Official Given Top Job by Trump Holdover

Washington, DC — In the final days of the Trump administration, a small federal agency has gone on a high-salary hiring spree, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), charged with probing chemical explosions and other industrial accidents, suffers from a shortage of investigators but has just hired two top-level officials with no industrial safety background.

On January 12th,  CSB Chairman Katherine Lemos announced the appointment of the latest, David LaCerte, to serve “a three-year term” as Senior Advisor, Executive Counsel, and as Acting Managing Director. Lemos is a Trump appointee and the sole remaining member of the five-member board overseeing CSB operations.  Prior to his selection at CSB, LaCerte had –

  • Resigned as Secretary of Veteran Affairs in Louisiana amid a sprawling investigation finding widespread problems with veterans care and management of veterans’ homes;
  • Filed a defamation suit against the Legislative Auditor and Inspector General, who authored the scathing report on his tenure, for saying he inflated military credentials; and
  • Stated he would stress the role climate change plays in industrial accidents, notwithstanding his lack of expertise in either subject.

“Nothing about this person’s background suggests that he could manage his way out of a wet paper bag, let alone handle a complex national industrial safety agency,” stated PEER General Counsel Paula Dinerstein, pointing out that LaCerte entered federal service as a non-competitive political hire in Trump’s Office of Personnel Management.  “CSB has a vital mission that is not served by a spree of unqualified crony senior executive hires.”

Despite his lack of relevant experience, Lemos, who also has no prior chemical industry experience, called LaCerte “the perfect fit to bring institutional reform and modernization to the CSB.”  This is the second political hire by Lemos in as many months. In mid-November, she named Bruce Walker as Senior Advisor for “policy and outreach” at an unspecified salary.

Meanwhile, CSB is straining under a backlog of unfinished investigations, some dating back three years, and a diminished cadre of only 11 investigators, down from 20 just five years earlier.  CSB’s overall budget for this fiscal year is approximately $12 million.

“The CSB is throwing a significant portion of its small budget on high-salaried hangers-on,” added Dinerstein, noting that the incoming Biden administration could remove Lemos as CSB Chair.  “Ms. Lemos should be stripped of her hiring authority and President Biden should restore some adult supervision to the Chemical Safety Board.”

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Read the CSB announcement of LaCerte’s hiring

View the Louisiana Legislative Auditor and Inspector General report on LaCerte

Look at CSB’s backlog and lack of investigators