Ex-chemical safety agency chief misused $90K on trips, renovations and other expenses, watchdog says

The previous head of a federal agency that investigates chemical accidents improperly spent greater than $90,000 throughout her tenure, together with unauthorized journeys to and from her California residence, reworking her Washington workplace and outdoors media coaching for herself, in line with a brand new report by a federal watchdog.

The report by the Environmental Safety Agency’s inspector basic says Katherine Lemos, the previous chair of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, was not entitled to journey bills value almost $50,000 for at the very least 18 spherical journeys between the capital and her residence in San Diego from April 2020 by March 2022, when she modified her official office to San Diego.

Lemos took two extra spherical journeys between San Diego and Washington from March 2022 till her resignation 4 months later, the report mentioned. These journeys price greater than $5,000, however investigators have been unable to find out in the event that they violated federal coverage.

Lemos, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, was dogged by controversy all through her 28-month tenure. For a lot of that point, she was the one particular person serving on what is meant to be a five-member panel.

A September 2022 report by the EPA inspector basic mentioned the safety board was hindered by a scarcity of staffing, management disputes and a backlog of investigations that threatened its capacity to guard folks and the surroundings.

Management disputes, shoddy inner opinions and reporting backlogs “are impeding the board’s capacity to perform its mission,″ Inspector Normal Sean O’Donnell mentioned in a press release on the time.

The report got here two months after Lemos resigned amid criticism about extravagant spending and inner clashes with other board members. The safety board accomplished only one investigation in 2020, three in 2021 and three within the first seven months of 2022, the report mentioned on the time. At the very least 17 investigations have been ready to be closed.

In his latest report, launched Thursday, O’Donnell mentioned Lemos was not entitled to fee of journey bills for stays in Washington or for her journey between the capital and her residence in San Diego.

“Dr. Lemos’s resolution to reside in San Diego, greater than 2,000 miles from her responsibility station, was her private selection, and her journey between San Diego and Washington, D.C., was a private expense,” the report mentioned. Lemos couldn’t instantly be reached for remark.

She informed the inspector basic’s workplace that she relied on the recommendation of board employees relating to expense reimbursements. Workers on the safety board “had problem acquiring clear steerage from the Workplace of Presidential Personnel” and the Workplace of Personnel Administration on her journey bills, which primarily got here through the COVID-19 pandemic, when many authorities staff have been working from residence, she mentioned.

Requested why she continued to journey to and from San Diego even after a proper grievance was filed in Could 2021, Lemos replied, “I didn’t assume I used to be doing something unsuitable,″ the report mentioned.

Lemos additionally spent greater than $22,000 to renovate her Washington workplace — regardless of not utilizing it as her regular work station, the report mentioned. The bills far exceeded the $5,000 cap for typical renovations that don’t require prior notification to Congress. The prices included alternative of furnishings that had been bought for an earlier renovation accomplished when the board moved to a brand new workplace in 2015, the report mentioned,

Lemos informed investigators that her furnishings purchases have been made after consulting with senior employees and her “precedence to make sure a protected office through the COVID-19 surroundings for present and incoming board members and employees,” the report mentioned.

Lemos additionally spent almost $25,000 on outdoors media coaching for herself and greater than $1,200 to journey to Norfolk, Virginia, for a ceremony celebrating a U.S. Navy plane service. A safety board ethics official mentioned the journey was not associated to the agency’s official enterprise.

Lemos mentioned she was invited to the Norfolk ceremony in her capability as safety board chair and that other board staff participated in her media coaching.

The report cleared Lemos of wrongdoing on a grievance that she improperly employed two senior aides on a noncompetitive foundation, together with a senior adviser from Northrop Grumman, her former employer.

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