Chemical Safety Board Prepares to Fire Managing Director

The Chemical Safety Board helped investigate the April 2013 explosion of a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. The Chemical Safety Board helped investigate the April 2013 explosion of a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. Charles Dharapak/AP file photo

The managing director of the Chemical Safety Board, who has been on paid administrative leave for five months because of an inspector general’s suspicions, got word on Monday that he is being proposed for termination.

Daniel Horowitz, along with general counsel Richard Loeb, was accused of “possible misconduct” last year by lawmakers in the run-up to the March dismissal of the board’s controversial chairman. He received notice on Nov. 16 of a proposed termination after being told to stay home one additional day after his leave was set to end, according to his attorney at the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Government Executive confirmed the move independently, but an agency spokesman on Thursday said, “Daniel Horowitz is currently an employee of the CSB. The agency does not comment on internal personnel matters.” Civil Service law gives an employee 30 days to reply to such a decision.

The administrative leave for both Horowitz and Loeb, who could not be reached for comment, was extended as recently as Oct. 29 while Chairman Vanessa Sutherland awaits results of an investigation by an outside firm. Both employees, along with fired chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso, got tangled up in accusations of improper use of private email, low morale, retaliation against whistleblowers and misuse of board governance rules.

On Oct. 23, PEER sought intervention from the Office of Personnel Management to end the extended administrative leave. An OPM spokesman told Government Executive his agency has no such authority. Sutherland has expressed sympathy for the two employees and hopes for not keeping them in limbo.

The cited basis for the termination is “specifications” of “conduct unbecoming a federal employee,” PEER said in a release. Among the specifics are creating the “appearance of a retaliatory act;” improperly accepting a promotion to an interim Senior Executive Service appointment; and failure to create a strategy for attracting new hires.

Those reasons seem rare and “bizarre” to PEER executive director Jeff Ruch. “The real reason for this farce is that congressional GOP members have pressured incoming CSB Board Chair Vanessa Sutherland to oust Dr. Horowitz—and that is precisely what we expect her to do,” he said. “PEER will be representing Dr. Horowitz in fighting this impermissible politicization of the civil service. Civil servants should not be fired for simply doing their jobs.”

Meanwhile, PEER warned, the Chemical Safety Board needs a managing director in part because months have gone by since it last sent investigators to industrial accident sites. Its last deployment, according to the agency’s website, was in March to Torrance, Calif.

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