FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, July 12, 2023
Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028 firstname.lastname@example.org
CSB Should Recoup Improper Payments to Ex-Chair
Trump Appointee Racked Up Nearly $100,000 in Unauthorized Expenses
Washington, DC —The former head of the U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) used its budget like a personal piggy bank and should pay back tens of thousands of dollars in improper expenses, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In all, the Trump-appointed Chairperson caused the diversion of nearly $100,000 from funds earmarked for investigation and prevention of industrial and other chemical accidents.
A late June report by the Office of Inspector General for the Environmental Protection Agency (which has jurisdiction over the CSB) confirmed that Katherine Lemos ran up more than $96,000 in unauthorized expenses for airfare, hotels, and office furniture, among other items, during her two-year tenure (April 2020 to July 22) at the agency. The agency could not make a final determination about the propriety of several thousands of dollars in other Lemos expenses.
Many of these expenses involved CSB paying airfare for her to commute from her home in San Diego to the CSB headquarters in D.C. She eventually and improperly had her home declared her duty station, although there were no other CSB assets in the region. In so doing, she brushed aside repeated admonitions that her actions violated regulations.
Even though she was rarely in her headquarters office, she had it redecorated at a cost more than five times the limit for such expenses. In another instance, she took a tax-paid junket to attend a ceremony at an aircraft carrier staying at a luxury hotel, overriding staff objections that her trip was an unjustified “junket.”
“In a small agency like the Chemical Safety Board, Lemos’ spending spree consumed about 1% of their entire operating budget,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, noting that CSB’s total $14 million annual budget does not match its mission as the sole federal agency investigating industrial accidents across the country. “Her travel came out of the small fund for deploying investigators to the scene of industrial explosions, fires, and other accidents.”
Whitehouse today sent a letter to the new CSB leadership urging them to take legal action to recover these improper payments from Lemos. He pointed out that CSB had in the past sought recovery of student loan payments to employees who left the agency before the required length of service. CSB also took legal action against an investigator who misused his agency-issued travel card for personal expenses.
“The Chemical Safety Board has sought to recoup improper expenses in cases far less outrageous than this outrageous spending spree,” added Whitehouse, noting that she had disregarded a May 2021 PEER press release protesting her excess spending as “half-truths.” “Katherine Lemos engaged in extensive, extravagant, and egregious behavior, and she should reimburse the taxpayers she abused.”