Critics charge the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) with being too slow in completing its work: the CSB has finished only three investigation reports in two years of operation.
It now appears CSB Chairman Paul Hill cannot even resign on schedule.
Last month Hill had reportedly told board and staff members he would resign his chairmanship by the end of 1999, while retaining his membership on the board. At the CSB's Jan.10 public meeting, Hill said the resignation was being held up while the White House makes up its mind on how it wants to replace him.
"This is a decision of the White House," said Hill at the January meeting. When pressed by stakeholders to give a timeline on the management change, he replied, "We have all stated, 'the sooner the better.'"
The CSB has for months been riven by a governance dispute between Hill and the other three members of the CSB that board members concede has hampered its ability to complete investigations.
Hill's successor would normally face confirmation by the Senate, although a recess appointment to the post would circumvent this requirement.
Board member Gerald Poje said the CSB members had requested prompt action by the White House on the matter. He also encouraged all "who have a stake in the viability of this institution to also express your interest in seeing this resolved."
Another board member, Irv Rosenthal, appeared to be so worried about the CSB's survival that he urged his colleagues to consider taking action themselves on the management issue.
"At a certain point we as board members have to take steps ... to ensure that someone recognizes and takes responsibility for a business plan," said Rosenthal. "We have to complete accident investigations -- we, in my opinion, are in danger of going bankrupt."