According to a recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Inspector General report Katherine Lemos, former chairperson and CEO of the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), improperly spent at least $97,835.79 on travel, unnecessary training and office décor.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is asking Lemos to account for her violations of taxpayer resources and reimburse misspent funds that were wasted during her tenure as CEO/chairperson of CSB.
Taxpayers pay members of the CSB to investigate and respond to chemical hazard situations, not to redecorate their office. This violation of taxpayer resources and public trust cannot go unanswered. These misspent funds must be returned to reimburse taxpayers and deter future abuses.Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
In a 2022 resignation letter, Lemos said, “Recent priorities of the Board have eroded my confidence in our ability to focus” on CSB’s mission. However, Grassley says, it appears Lemos’ focus was billing the taxpayer for unauthorized travel, unnecessary training and décor expenses.
The inspector general found that Lemos illegally used government funds to pay for her travel between her duty station in Washington DC, and her residence in San Diego. She also used government funds to cover non-official business expenses in violation of the Federal Travel Regulation.
According to the IG report, Lemos spent $22,057.26 to redecorate her office in violation of the Federal Management Regulation and federal law. Under those rules, such expenses are capped at $5,000 unless there is prior congressional approval.
Earlier this year, Grassley similarly called for action to recover more than $12,000 misspent by former Architect of the Capitol Brett Blanton. Those funds were ultimately withheld from his final compensation.
Read Grassley’s letter to Lemos here or below:
August 4, 2023
VIA ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION
Dr. Katherine A. Lemos
Former Chairperson and CEO
U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board
Dear Dr. Lemos:
According to a report of investigation issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Inspector General (OIG), during your time as the chairperson of the U.S. Chemical Safety Hazard Investigation Board (Board or CSB), you violated the Federal Travel Regulation (FTR), improperly calculated travel expenses, exceeded the statutory cap on expenses to furnish and redecorate your office without notice to Congress, violated the Federal Management Regulation, and violated the Government Employees Training Act and Office of Personal Management (OPM) regulations.1 Your improper conduct and excessive use of taxpayer money illustrates clear disrespect to the taxpayer.2
Regarding your travel between your residence and official duty station, the OIG found you were “not entitled to use government funds to pay for [your] travel between [your] residence in San Diego and [your] official duty station in Washington, D.C.”3 The report notes that you cost the taxpayer $49,668.46 in violation of the FTR.4 Additionally, when you switched your official duty station from Washington, D.C. to San Diego, you traveled to Washington, D.C. twice more for an additional, improper expense of $5,163.54.5
With respect to other travel-related issues, the OIG found you impermissibly used Board funds for non-official business.6 Your travel from Washington, D.C. to Norfolk, Virginia for your visiting a naval vessel amounted to $1,246.53.7 The OIG found that the “embarkation on the
1 Environmental Protection Agency Office of Inspector General, Report No. 23-N-0020 Report of Investigation: Katherine A. Lemos, Former Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer, U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, (June 28, 2023), https://www.epa.gov/system/files/documents/2023-06/ epaoig 20230628-23- N-0020 redacted.pdf.
3 Id. at 3.
4 The report notes, “Dr. Lemos traveled to Washington 18 times, at a total cost to the Board of $49,668.46, in violation of the FTR.” Id.
5 The report clarifies that, “Because federal law and regulations do not contain clear guidance related to changing the duty stations of federal agency heads, we were not able to conclude definitively that the expenses for the two trips were reimbursable under the FTR.” Id.
6 Id. at 15.
7 Id. at 17.
Dr. Lemos August 4, 2023 Page 2 of 2
aircraft carrier was not official CSB business and [your] use of Board funds for the travel to Norfolk was a violation of the FTR.”8
Regarding the furnishing and redecorating of your office, the OIG found the “CSB incurred expenses of $22,057.26 to furnish and redecorate [your] office”9 in Washington, D.C. The OIG found this violated the Federal Management Regulation. Further, this violated “the $5,000 cap allowable under federal law without notification to Congress.”10 Additionally, documentation for one purchase appears to have been “designed to obscure the fact that the furniture...was intended for [your] office.”11
With respect to your use of taxpayer funds for your own training, the OIG found that you “used $24,700 of Board funds to receive media training and executive coaching from two outside providers.”12 This was done without prior approval from OPM and thus “violated the Government Employees Training Act...and OPM regulations.”13
In total, the OIG identified at least $97,835.79 that you improperly cost the taxpayer.14 The OIG report describes conduct that is the very example of what a government employee should never do. Government employees exist to serve the people, not fleece them. Considering the OIG report’s findings, when will you repay the American taxpayer the $97,835.79 that you illegally cost them? Please provide an answer no later than August 18, 2023.
Charles E. Grassley Ranking Member Committee on the Budget
8 Id. Additionally, the OIG found that you charged travel expenses to the Board for trips to Houston and Atlanta that originated from San Diego, for your own convenience, instead of Washington, D.C., as was proper. These trips cost $1,582.98 and $1,747.52 respectively. Under the FTR, you were entitled to reimbursement for airfare from Washington, D.C., but, “[i]f the fare from San Diego was higher, then [you] would be responsible for the excess cost.” Id. at 19-20.
9 Id. at 33. 10 Id.
11 Id. at 23. 12 Id. at 36. 13 Id.
14 This amount reflects the impermissible expenses for travel from San Diego to Washington, D.C. ($49,668.46 + $5,163.54); your trip to Norfolk, Virginia ($1,246.53); furniture and decoration in excess of the $5,000 limit ($22,057.26 - $5,000); and personal training ($24,700). This amount does not include any improper expenses from your Atlanta and Houston travels, which the OIG did not calculate.