Issue Date: April 21, 2008
Balancing The Safety Board
Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) Chairman John S. Bresland wants to modify selection criteria for the five-person board so that no more than three commissioners are from the same political party.
The new criteria would make the political balance of CSB's membership similar to the five-member National Transportation Safety Board, upon which CSB is modeled, Bresland notes. The same criteria are also applied in the membership of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the Securities & Exchange Commission, and other federal oversight bodies.
"We have been talking to people on Capitol Hill about this," Bresland tells C&EN. "In my opinion, it would be more logical to do it this way in today's world in Washington."
Bresland notes that with the current selection system, along with five-year board terms, a two-term president will wind up selecting all board members, making it likely the entire board will be in the same party. Current board members are all Republicans.
The board could profit from a more diverse membership and a "more interesting split of opinion," Bresland says. "A Democrat nominated to be on the board might come from an environmental organization or a labor union. This could give us a different point of view and maybe more balance, as well as perhaps a different approach in how we investigate chemical accidents."
Also, Bresland adds, designating party slots might smooth Senate confirmation, particularly when the White House and Senate are controlled by different parties. Sometimes this split results in a "little bumping of heads," he says.
For example, Bresland's Senate confirmation as CSB chairman was delayed nine months, even though he already served on the board. "I was told this wasn't due to anything against me personally, but that is the way it is in Washington, especially in an election year."
The board is still one position down. C. Russell H. Shearer, a Department of Energy official, was nominated last summer and still awaits Senate confirmation.
Bresland notes that the change in criteria for the board's makeup will require legislation and more discussion among the current board members.
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