Morale Cratering at Chemical Safety Board
Number of Investigators Down by More Than Half as More Employees Depart
Washington, DC — Claims by a small, troubled agency that it had solved morale problems are belied by results from the latest Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. In addition, a stream of departures hampers its capacity to function, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The long-running personnel soap opera plays on at the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) which has had four leadership changes since 2015. The government-wide 2018 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey shows one of the sharpest drops in morale at CSB of any agency:
- Sixty-one of 72 questions yielded higher negative ratings, many by double digits. Only 41% of respondents say CSB is a good place to work and fewer than half think senior leadership is doing a good job;
- This dramatic turnaround appears to support employee complaints that the 2017 morale survey results were inflated because the CSB chair and senior staff pressured employees to give a false impression to avoid being defunded as proposed in two Trump budgets; and
- This year employees voted for the first time to unionize under the auspices of the American Federation of Government Employees but CSB has still not signed even an interim collective bargaining agreement, which would provide basic rights such as a grievance procedure.
The CSB’s new 2018 morale results were buried on its web site, in sharp contrast to last year’s nominally positive data which were touted in a homepage news release. In addition, CSB has refused to release full results of its own internal morale and communications survey from earlier this year that were reportedly scathing. PEER requested the survey essays under the Freedom of Information Act. CSB denied the request saying the survey was “pre-decisional” and then, in response to a PEER appeal claimed the anonymous essays are withheld to protect employee privacy. PEER is suing to force the release.
“One quality in critically short supply at CSB is candor,” stated Jeff Ruch, Executive Director of PEER which is legally representing Dr. Daniel Horowitz in challenging his removal as Managing Director in June after being kept on administrative leave since 2015. “Although CSB is a very small agency it is being massively mismanaged.”
One side-effect of plummeting morale is the departure of investigators. Today there are only about 9 left versus 20 investigators in 2015. In a manifesto which investigators composed this spring they complained that no investigators have been hired, yet CSB was planning to eliminate the jobs of “high-performing attorney investigators,” further thinning the agency’s already depleted ranks. They also cite a “weak commitment to CSB safety mission” as evidenced by new limits on “investigation depth,” the elimination of “root cause investigations” and that “management wants to eliminate review of draft reports by experts, the company, union, and other stakeholders.”
“The CSB today is in a seriously degraded condition,” added Ruch, noting that both the number of reports and scope of recommendations has shrunk precipitously in the past three years. “The sole federal entity charged with investigating chemical fires, explosions, and other industrial accidents is far less productive than it has been during the past two decades, while the need for it to be effective has never been greater.”