I don't think there's any corruption here - this is a public appointment. Ms. Sutherland is both and African-American and a woman, two groups which have been underrepresented in the Obama Administration's second term. While she is wildly unqualified from a "resume" standpoint (I note no one has called out the fact that she has a background only in IT security), she was the counsel to PHMSA, which carries tremendous value in what I would call "perceptions" of chemical safety.
The public doesn't care what happens at DuPont Laporte or at some ammonia refrigeration facility in Houston. They care about stopping railcars from coming through their backyards with perceived cargos of greenhouse gas generating fossil fuels and stopping chemical plants in their neighborhoods. PHMSA has advocated on these sorts of safety issues and Ms. Sutherland is a mushy appointment who won't buck the trends of the other two union friendly appointees (who are also barely competent) that were recently confirmed.
It is a SAD day for the CSB - we've gone downhill from the days of Carolyn Merritt and John Bresland.
From: DCHAS-L Discussion List [mailto:dchas-l**At_Symbol_Here**med.cornell.edu] On Behalf Of Janet Baum
Sent: Thursday, May 28, 2015 1:11 PM
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] CSB Public Meetings - input?
Rob, I support your viewpoint on this candidate, even considering Peter's reasoning. Is there any whiff of corruption in the CSB organization that would lead to this result?
Washington University in St. Louis
On Thu, May 28, 2015 at 1:33 PM, ILPI Support <info**At_Symbol_Here**ilpi.com> wrote:
I can buy the size argument for a Fortune 500 organization. But we're talking an agency so small that the entire staff fits into a relatively small meeting room. Every individual in the CSB will report directly to the appointee at some point and work one-on-one in discussions that will be incredibly detailed and technical. I can't even begin to imagine how frustrating that will be for the investigative staff to have to drop back to basic chemistry principles every time they need to explain something to their boss. Triaging and allocating the woefully inadequate financial resources of the CSB requires direct firsthand knowledge of the subject matter. It's the CHEMICAL Safety Board, and when I looked on Drew U's Art History and Political Science web sites, Chemistry was not among the required courses, so let's hope it was in the general requirements or that she at least took it as an elective.
I have no doubt that there are dozens of far-better qualified candidates who could bridge the gap between technical abilities and leadership in a way that will let the CSB finally live up to its full (and quite awesome) potential. Some of them are probably reading this post on DCHAS-L right now, in fact. Both skills are necessary but neither alone (as we have with this appointment) is sufficient. They nailed it over at the NTSB: http://www.ntsb.gov/news/speeches/CHart/Pages/bio_hart.aspx that's for sure. Yes, the CSB appointee may work out just fine and surprise us - and I hope she does. But we should have something better than hope - namely, confidence. I hope this works out, but I am not confident it will.
As far as the appointee's credentials as an attorney - I have no doubt that she must be absolutely top-notch in her profession. There is no way one could rise to a star role at a tobacco company without being one skilled and tenacious attorney. However, in my personal opinion, there is a vast difference between living up to the laudable legal ethics of defending anyone accused of any crime, no matter how heinous, and making a personal moral choice to use one's vast natural talents to enable a corporations' profit machine which depends on *recruiting new victims* to continuously replace the 1/3 of its customers who will die a premature and horrid death. In my book, that's not defending a client, it's aiding and abetting.
I would personally be hard-pressed to find an example of someone whose choice of employer and personal ability to rationalize the direct consequences of their actions makes them more UNFIT to lead the premier bastion of health, safety, and worker protection.
Obviously, the appointment is probably a done deal and, barring some political turf war or unexpected development, the appointee will be confirmed. But I think it's the kinds of questions I've raised that we as a community should be asking - should we have realized that the CSB was imploding at the top and seen our our chance to seize the moment and influence the administration to consult with groups such as ours in developing a candidate list? Either way, we should embrace Peter's comments which remind and inspire us that it's healthy to explore our professional and scientific ethics every so often.
On May 27, 2015, at 9:23 PM, Peter Zavon <pzavon**At_Symbol_Here**rochester.rr.com> wrote:
At some point in every technical organization, technical experts find themselves reporting to someone who knows less that they do of their technical area. That does not suggest that the top level person lacking technical expertise is unqualified for the job. As you go higher in a hierarchy, technical ability becomes less important and the ability to support and facilitate (find and marshal resources needed by the technical experts) becomes more important.
Yes, you know all that. But that is why an attorney without a heavy industrial or lab background may be an effective chair of CSB. (No guarantee, of course)
As to that time with Altria, remember that the legal ethic is very different from the scientific ethic. Ethical attorneys are expected to provide their best efforts in support of the client in adversarial proceedings, even if the attorney knows the client is "guilty." The scientific ethic seeks demonstrable truth, regardless of who pays, although that ethic has been degraded over the last few decades by contaminating bleed from the legal ethic.
Peter Zavon, CIH
I'll crawl out on a limb here and comment on something I know little about.
How does this resume qualify someone to lead the CSB? http://www.allgov.com/news/appointments-and-resignations/chair-of-the-chemical-safety-and-hazard-investigation-board-who-is-vanessa-allen-sutherland-150329?news=856087
Opinion mode on: Ms Sutherland apparently worked for Altria aka Philip Morris from 2004 to 2011 = 7 years. In other words, she used her tremendous talent to defend an industry which, using CDC stats, caused 3.36 million premature deaths in the US alone during her tenure at Altria, plus millions more internationally. Can someone who works at a chemical plant, refinery or laboratory tell me with a straight face that this is the person they want to protect their lives and safety?
Even putting that aside, her limited experience as counsel at DOT doesn't pass my litmus test. I want someone with background and experience in chemical safety process management, an advanced science degree, and/or investigatory experience etc. to lead the CSB. I feel really sad for the (awesome) investigative staff at CSB right now.
Ow, my head hurts trying to understand this appointment!
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On May 27, 2015, at 11:33 AM, Debbie M. Decker <dmdecker**At_Symbol_Here**UCDAVIS.EDU> wrote:
Hi and Hello:
I'd like to hear input from the Division on the two questions (below) posed by the CSB for discussion at their upcoming public meeting(s).
Washington, DC, May 12, 2015 - Today the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) announced that the board will host two public meetings in June 2015 in order to increase dialogue with CSB stakeholders.
The first meeting will bring together stakeholders from industry, labor, trade, professional associations, and environmental organizations on Wednesday, June 10th -- location to be announced shortly. The meeting will begin at 9:00 am and will include discussion focusing on two main issues:
=B7 Emerging safety issues/what should the CSB be looking at in its strategic plan?
=B7 How can the CSB optimize its investigations and recommendations?
Tell me what you think!
Debbie M. Decker, CCHO, ACS Fellow
Chair, Division of Chemical Health and Safety
University of California, Davis
Birkett's hypothesis: "Any chemical reaction
that proceeds smoothly under normal conditions,
can proceed violently in the presence of an idiot.."
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