Saturday, October 12, 2013

Chemical Safety and Security Working Group and the CSB

The next set of deadlines for the Chemical Safety and Security Working Group, November 5th, is fast approaching and as we all know the federal funding fiasco is not allowing any actual work towards achieving the goals that are targeted for completion on that date. This hiccup isn’t helped when the Working Group doesn’t even start working on at least one of the problems until the bureaucratic last minute.

In an article on the Chemical Engineering News (CEN) web site describing the FFF effects on the Chemical Safety Board, the Managing Director of the CSB, Daniel Horowitz is quoted as saying:

“All of that is frozen at this point,” Horowitz says. “We were also commencing discussions with other agencies about the presidential executive order on chemical safety and the effort to coordinate prevention and response efforts across the federal sector. The first meeting [emphasis added] was scheduled for last week and did not occur due to the shutdown.”

Now I understand that there is a certain amount of conflict between the CSB and two members of the Working Group (EPA and OSHA) over a number of outstanding recommendations by CSB. And the public chastising that CSB regularly issues regarding those recommendations does not make anyone at those two agencies real happy. In fact, I have privately heard complaints from EPA officials about the failure of CSB to play nice.

This is, of course, one of the reasons that the President included the following paragraph in his Executive Order (EO 13650):

“Within 90 days of the date of this order, the Working Group shall consult with the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) and determine what, if any, changes are required to existing memorandums of understanding (MOUs) and processes between EPA and CSB, ATF and CSB, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and CSB for timely and full disclosure of information. To the extent appropriate, the Working Group may develop a single model MOU with CSB in lieu of existing agreements.” {§4(c)}

Now I do not know why the first meeting was not scheduled until almost 60 days into the 90-day deadline, but it certainly does not bode well for working out a solution to the conflicts between the CSB and the EPA, OSHA and the Justice Department. Writing a memorandum of understanding between cooperative agencies within the same department (see ISCD and the Coast Guard on CFATS-MTSA coordination) can be a time consuming process as the agencies try to work out methods of avoiding stepping on each other’s toes. Where the agencies have active and ongoing public conflicts that process would be difficult enough to complete in 90 days. Cutting out the first 60 days before discussions are even started is a recipe for failure.

I suspect that the Working Group and the CSB management all understand this and that the delay in scheduling this meeting has not been because of the deadline being overlooked. I suspect that there has been on-going negotiations about the ground rules for the meeting and behind the scenes negotiations about the scope of the MOU changes.

When the November 5th deadlines are inevitably missed everyone will obviously point at the Congressional funding fiasco as the reason. With many of the other requirements to be completed by that date, that may be a legitimate blame-game operation. With this particular requirement Congress does really not deserve to be saddled with the responsibility; at least because of the current spending issue.

A lot of the conflict between the CSB and other federal agencies could have (should have) been foreseen when the agency was established by Congress. Instead of setting up a chemical version of the Transportation Safety Board, Congress half-stepped and set up a Transportation Safety Board Lite. The President’s EO is trying to correct those deficiencies by fiat and it just won’t work.

Without congressional action to restructure the relationships between the CSB and the other federal agencies responsible for chemical safety it is going to take concerted action by the White House to get these agencies to cooperate. A single paragraph in a related executive order is not going to get it done. And it certainly can't be fixed in 90-days.

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