Embattled Safety Agency Head Used Personal Email -- Report
Chemical Safety Board head cited "hostile environment" in keeping emails private.
The embattled head of the Chemical Safety Board violated the Federal Records Act by using a personal account to conduct official business, according to an EPA Inspector General report that was sent to the White House.
According to the report, CSB chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso and two senior executives used personal accounts to evade other employees at CSB and did not preserve the emails as official records. That's against federal regulations and "diminishes the integrity of the agency, its program functionality and the public trust in the CSB," IG Arthur Elkins Jr. wrote.
The report also includes emails that expose some internal dispute about agency operations, with Moure-Eraso citing a "hostile environment" with certain employees and allegations that a disgruntled employee had access to email servers as a reason for keeping emails private. Released emails also shine light on concerns about an investigative backlog at the agency.
Moure-Eraso and the agency is facing scrutiny from Capitol Hill for management issues and a long-standing morale problem that stakeholders and insiders claim has damaged the agency's ability to investigate and issue recommendations on chemical accidents.
The House Oversight Committee—which released the IG report—is probing the Federal Records Act charges and other claims of mismanagement from the agency, and is considering a hearing on the topic in early March, according to an aide. Elkins detailed the findings to the committee last month.
"This matter, outlined in the IG's report, is symptomatic of an agency plagued by personnel issues. The Committee will continue to investigate the growing problems at CSB until they are resolved," said Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.
The report was forwarded to the White House and is under review. The Federal Records Act itself doesn't carry any penalties—each agency is tasked with writing a compliance plan and its largely designed to ensure that emails and correspondence are kept on the record for archival purposes.
But a deliberate attempt to keep emails off of federal records can raise significant red flags. Moure-Eraso says that he used a personal account to discuss legal advice with Richard Loeb—now the agency's general counsel—because the General Counsel at the time "was not a friend of mine" and there was a "hostile environment."
An OIG official whose name is redacted is also quoted in the report recounting a phone conversation in which Loeb said that officials "did purposefully and for a time, use personal emails to keep information off CSB servers because certain disgruntled employees (at least one) appeared to have access to CSB servers."
CSB Managing Director Daniel Horowitz was also named in the report for using a personal account.
In a statement, CSB said that the National Archives and Records Administration guidelines did not prohibit the use of personal emails at the time the IG notified CSB of its investigation in March 2013 and that officials stopped the practice afterwards except in unusual circumstances. CSB also said that all documents sent or received on non-CSB servers were preserved and entered into the records management system.
An internal examination also found "a number of occasions in which CSB board members and staff other than those identified by the OIG have used private email accounts to conduct CSB-related business," the statement said. Those files also were turned over and put into records management system.