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‘A Complete Lack Of Competence’: Obama Holdovers Turn On Each Other As Agency Falls Into Disarray

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Chemical Safety Board (CSB) member Manuel Ehrlich blasted his fellow board members in a March 22 memo for forcing through a budget proposal without consulting him.

CSB board members Rick Engler and Kristen Kulinowski declared an “URGENT” vote and passed a proposed operating budget for 2020 on March 6. Declaring the vote urgent allowed the two members to pass the budget with minimum warning to Ehrlich and without him being present for the vote. All sitting board members were appointed by former President Barack Obama.

The CSB is an independent agency responsible for investigating accidents involving toxic chemicals, most often at such places as refineries and chemical plants. It is allowed to propose its own budget outside of the White House’s annual proposed budget for executive agencies.

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Ehrlich filed the memo in protest of the procedure through which Engler and Kulinowski passed the budget proposal. Ehrlich received a memo about the urgent vote March 5 before the vote was held March 6. Until then, Ehrlich had been kept in the dark on the budget proceedings, according to his memo.

“My reasons for disapproval are many, but essentially relate to issues with process and presentation,” Ehrlich wrote in a memo that, while posted on the CSB’s website, has had little to no coverage.

“I find it inconceivable that given the many months the CSB Members, and senior and financial staff have had to prepare this request, that they have to suddenly seek approval on an URGENT basis. In my judgment, this constitutes either a complete lack of competence, or poor planning, or both,” Ehrlich continued.

“Board Order 38 specifies a budget preparation process that should have begun months ago and involved all Board Members. Instead, I felt that I was actively kept out of the process, and only received [the proposed budget] on March 5, 2019,” Ehrlich said.

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Acting General Counsel Thomas Zoeller kept documents and discussions about the budget secret from Ehrlich, the board member said in the memo. Ehrlich requested documents about the proceedings from Zoeller, who then denied him saying the information was “privileged.”

“I disapprove this budget request. I do not do so lightly. The work of the CSB is important, and it is essential that the agency receive adequate funding from Congress,” Ehrlich wrote. “The process by which this budget was prepared in contravention to agency Board Orders, including not providing me, as a Board Member, with all of the information requested is unacceptable.”

The antics at the CSB likely added to tensions between board members before the agency settle a years-long personnel dispute with former CSB managing director Daniel Horowitz. The agency settled with Horowitz March 13, a day before hearings on his dispute were scheduled to begin.

Horowitz was placed on administrative leave in June 2015 and left in limbo unable to work or quit until he was fired three years later. The sitting CSB board members were split before the hearing was set to take place with Engler and Kulinowski planning to testify against Horowitz and Ehrlich planning to testify in support.


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