For Immediate Release: Nov 12, 2018
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

CHEMICAL SAFETY BOARD IN CLOSED-DOOR WRANGLE

Fight for Additional $300K Retainer for Law Firm in Marathon Personnel Case


Washington, DC — A small agency is hemorrhaging a lot of taxpayer money on a personnel case that has yet to go to hearing. The big amounts the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) is spending on outside legal counsel limits its ability to meet its mission of investigating industrial accidents, explosions, and leaks, charges Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The CSB has filed notice of a rare closed-door meeting for tomorrow, November 13, to discuss a “legal services support contract” for the law firm of Shaw, Bransford & Roth reportedly in the amount of $300,000. This new retainer is on top of $157,000 CSB has already awarded the firm since 2015.

The firm is retained in connection with a case involving the now-former CSB Managing Director, Dr. Daniel Horowitz, who had been facing a proposed termination since November 2015. In late June of this year, then-CSB Chair, Vanessa Sutherland, who delayed her decision until the night before she resigned to take a private sector job, signed a cryptic removal decision.

On November 1st, CSB cancelled a closed-door meeting on the same topic without explanation.

“This law firm has found a cash cow in this tiny troubled agency,” stated Jeff Ruch, Executive Director of PEER, whose attorneys are representing Dr. Daniel Horowitz in challenging his removal, noting that altogether, CSB has spent nearly a million dollars on this one matter, and the first hearing is not until January. “For an agency charged with responding to chemical disasters to divert its limited resources for legal expenses in a needless personnel dispute shows how badly misplaced its current priorities are.”

One way the firm burned through money was by pursuing an unusual and ill-fated motion for a protective order seeking to prevent PEER from publicizing information about the case and sealing all material as confidential, including “the identity of individual(s) who provide testimony or information.” The motion alleged that publicity about the case would cause CSB “employees and former employees fear of harassment.” The motion was rejected by the Merit System Protection Board judge slated to hear the case.

“We have never before seen a federal agency seek a protective order against disclosures from a non-profit group,” added Ruch, noting that this case could have been settled for far less than what CSB has and will spend, not counting the legal fees it will have to pay PEER if it loses. “It takes a lot of nerve to use taxpayer dollars to prevent taxpayers from learning what happened to their money.”

CSB has a total annual budget of approximately $11 million. In the past three years its corps of investigators has dropped from 20 to only 9, as the number and scope of investigation reports issued has shriveled. PEER argues that this decline occurred during the period Dr. Horowitz was forced to remain on administrative leave and barred from agency work.

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See the CSB meeting notice

Look at past payments to law firm

Revisit the Horowitz case

View CSB morale meltdown

Examine CSB’s proposed protective order

Read the PEER response

Scan the MSPB judge’s denial