Product Safety Agency Needs A Troop Surge
The Consumer Product Safety Commission hasn't had a chairperson since July 2006, when Hal Stratton stepped down to return to the private sector.
Normally this sort of agency churn would be considered inside baseball, but in this case it affects millions of average consumers.
As my colleague Cindy Skrzycki explained yesterday, the panel needs three members to have a quorum to perform certain vital functions such as setting civil penalties or writing rules. It can still carry out those tasks without a third member for six months. But those six months ended in January. The agency tried to get as much done as possible before quorum expired, but it didn't get to everything on its plate. It wasn't able to lower the level of lead allowed in children's jewelry or deal with the safety risks of all-terrain vehicles.
The White House has combined its failure to appoint a chairperson at CPSC with a budget proposal that essentially continues a series of cutbacks at the agency. Experienced staff--folks who conduct investigations in the field and test products in the lab--have left, leaving fewer people to pick up the slack.
At an agency with a mission like the CPSC's, that's some slack. It is responsible for ensuring the safety of more than 15,000 consumer products.
Last week, the Senate Commerce Committee passed an amendment that would allow the CPSC to continue its work for another six months without a third member.
It still has to be passed by Congress.
Both industry and consumer advocates are getting impatient. The Lighter Association, which represents makers and distributors of lighters in the U.S., has been waiting on the CPSC to pass mandatory safety standards for lighters to ensure imports abide by the same rules its members do.
Rachel Weintraub, director of product safety for the Consumer Federation of America told Cindy between not appointing a chairperson and the proposed budget cuts, the White House is showing what a low priority the agency is for it.
The Bush administration supposedly has someone in mind for the top job: Michael Baroody, a top lobbyist for the National Association of Manufacturers. So far, the White House is officially mum on that rumor. So is NAM. And as of Friday, the Bush administration had yet to formally forward the name of a nominee to the relevant Senate committee.
We'll keep you posted on any new developments.
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