The embattled US Chemical Safety Board (CSB), the small independent federal agency charged with investigating serious industrial chemical accidents, continues to court controversy. Most recently, it has come to light that former chairwoman Katherine Lemos – who resigned from the CSB last year, reportedly citing ‘eroded confidence’ in the board’s ability to focus on its mission based on its ‘recent priorities’ – apparently racked up approximately $100,000 (£77,400) in unauthorised expenses during her two-year tenure.

These expenses include spending on things like airfare, hotels and office furniture, and were diverted from funds intended for investigating and preventing chemical accidents, according to the non-profit environmental protection organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

PEER cites a report, issued by the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) last month, as substantiating these figures. ‘In a small agency like the Chemical Safety Board, Lemos’s spending spree consumed about 1% of their entire operating budget,’ said PEER’s executive director Tim Whitehouse. He noted that the agency’s total annual budget is $14 million. ‘Her travel came out of the small fund for deploying investigators to the scene of industrial explosions, fires and other accidents,’ Whitehouse added.

Lemos spent more than $22,000 to redecorate her office at the CSB’s Washington DC headquarters, which was more than four times the allowable amount given that there was no prior notification of Congress. PEER is calling for her to reimburse the agency for these apparently improper payments. Ultimately, the OIG could not make a final determination about whether other expenses that she ran up were properly charged.

Lemos could not be reached for comment.

This is not the first instance of such drama at the CSB. The agency’s former chairwoman, Vanessa Sutherland, who had been on paid administrative leave since June 2015, resigned five years ago following claims of mismanagement and leadership failures. One of the agency’s previous chairmen, Rafael Moure-Eraso – who led the agency from June 2010 until March 2015 – was forced to resign over serious mismanagement allegations in March 2015, amid congressional and White House pressure.

Correction: The story was updated on 20 September 2023 to clarify that Vanessa Sutherland was chairwoman of the CSB and was not dismissed but resigned.