Daniel Horowitz is the managing director of the Chemical Safety Board, a small agency charged with investigating refinery, fertilizer plant, and other industrial chemical accidents. For the past five months, however, he has been under virtual house arrest—forbidden to enter the CSB offices or speak with CSB staff and directed to be available by phone from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., waiting for a call that never came.
The reason? He is under investigation for “possible misconduct” primarily raised in an 18-month-old mish-mash of a House Republican committee staff report.
This Monday, [Nov. 16, 2015] his administrative leave was supposed to end, but he was told to stay home for another day and await “clarification” of his status. That clarification came around 5:30 p.m. in the form of a notice of proposed termination. The cited basis is “specifications” of “Conduct Unbecoming a Federal Employee,” including some very bizarre allegations such as:
- Creating the “appearance of a retaliatory act” (a new one to us, and we have been doing whistleblower work for 20+ years);
- Improperly accepting a promotion to an Interim Senior Executive Service appointment—the first time we have seen a promotion as a fire-able offense; and
- Failure to create a strategy for attracting new hires. (Perhaps he should have pitched something like “Welcome to the snake pit”?)
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. 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.
The larger issue is that the new leadership at the CSB is scared to death of making political enemies. As a result, it has ceased to function:
- It has not sent investigators out to a single industrial accident in more than nine months despite 25 (and counting) major accidents causing a like number of fatalities;
- When a local high school chemistry class experiment caused a flame-over, resulting in hospitalizations, the CSB declined to send an investigator although the school was less than 30 minutes’ drive from their headquarters. Instead, CSB announced it would engage in “advocacy” even though it had no coherent message (other than “Be safe when playing with methanol”); and
- The CSB appears to have announced a moratorium on any new investigations until it finishes resolving its historically small backlog of six uncompleted reports. It has since denied there is a moratorium, but refuses to explain how it will make deployment decisions.
Looks like an agency is in need of a managing director.
Jeff Ruch, executive director PEER