CSB's Daniel Horowitz attends a press conference on an investigation of a 2010 plant explosion in Middletown, Conn.  Horowitz is one of two employees who have been placed on administrative leave.

CSB's Daniel Horowitz attends a press conference on an investigation of a 2010 plant explosion in Middletown, Conn. Horowitz is one of two employees who have been placed on administrative leave. Jessica Hil/AP file photo

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Two Placed on Administrative Leave as Tensions Mount at Chemical Safety Board

Problems have escalated from a "toxic work environment to thermonuclear war," employee advocate says.

In the latest sign of governance tensions at the Chemical Safety Board, two key officials who had been criticized during congressional investigations were placed on 45-day administrative leave, according to in-house emails leaked to an employee rights group.

General Counsel Richard Loeb and Managing Director Daniel Horowitz are “on leave,” according to an email to staff from interim top executive Rick Engler released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. The move is reportedly related to possible “misconduct” involving management issues investigated by Congress. The leave order forbids the two from re-entering the board’s K Street Northwest offices in Washington or talking to any CSB staff member, PEER said in a release, noting that “armed Federal Protective Service agents placed the two in custody and escorted them off the premises.”

On Thursday, Engler presided over a regularly scheduled public business meeting to consider governance and transparency reforms for the board, but the meeting was cut short due to lack of the needed quorum of three. Board member Manny Ehrlich declined to participate either in person or by telephone, leaving just Engler and Mark Griffon, whose term ends on June 24. Ehrlich last week had sought to postpone action on Engler’s plan for interim governance changes pending Senate confirmation of a permanent chair for the CSB.

Engler told Government Executive he is unable to confirm or discuss personnel matters. Neither Loeb nor Horowitz were present at the meeting attended by numerous members of the staff of 40, including deputy general counsel Ray Porfiri.

“In charge for less than a week, Engler has presided over the escalation from a toxic work environment to thermonuclear war,” said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “These stale and frankly trivial matters do not merit Egyptian-style martial-law retribution meted out here.”

The Office of Personnel Management recently asked agencies to crack down on use of paid administrative leave, noting that the practice is an “immediate, temporary solution to the problem of any employee who should be kept away from the worksite.” It is “generally inappropriate” for agencies to place employees on administrative leave when situations will take a long time to resolve, OPM said. In those cases, agencies should look for alternative solutions such as giving employees new assignments, the memorandum stated.