WASHINGTON – The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), run by officials appointed by former President Barack Obama, is attempting to fill a vacancy in one of the agency’s top career positions.
Board members Manuel Ehrlich, Rick Engler and Kristen Kulinowski joined the CSB under the Obama administration and each is nearing the end of a five-year term. Engler on Monday sent out a notice that the CSB was looking to hire a new general counsel.
Ehrlich and Engler both have roughly a year left at the agency, with Ehrlich term-limited in December 2018 and Engler in February 2020. Kulinowski, who also serves as the board’s interim executive elected by the board members, is set to leave the agency in August 2020, unless nominated to serve another term by President Donald Trump.
“What they are attempting to do is make sure they’ve got their person in for a year or so, so that the person is very difficult to remove,” a source familiar with the matter told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“Like most agencies the CSB requires a [permanent] general counsel,” CSB spokeswoman Hillary Cohen told TheDCNF when asked for comment.
Cohen did not respond to a follow-up question for clarification.
The CSB’s acting general counsel is Tom Zoeller. He entered the position as a political employee limited to a term of three years in January 2017. Zoeller’s term ends in January 2020. He could then be appointed to the position, but OPM would likely block his appointment because of his service as a political appointee during the Obama administration.
Engler advertised the position through Public Citizen, a left-leaning government watchdog group, according to emails viewed by TheDCNF.
The advertisement asks specifically for “current Senior Executive Service (SES) members and graduates of an OPM-approved SES Candidate Development Program.” SES members are vetted and approved by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Once members go through the approval process, they are able to work in SES positions throughout the federal government.
Under certain conditions, the OPM may block an agency from filling an SES position. For example, the OPM could block the appointment of an SES general counsel at the CSB because the agency lacks a Trump-appointed head, and OPM generally suspends SES appointments in the absence of an appointed agency head, a source told TheDCNF.
Scandal has riled the CSB for years. Employees at the agency called it “toxic” in an anonymous survey on the agency’s moral taken in February 2018. One response said the “level of disregard for employee opinion and morale is obscene at the current condition.”
Trump has attempted to abolish the agency twice, cutting it entirely from the White House 2018 and 2019 budget proposals, but Congress has ultimately decided to keep funding the board.