Consumer Product Safety Commission Scandal

KPFA covers the growing scandal surrounding the Consumer Products
Safety Commission (CPSC) and the conflict of interest emerging
regarding its head, Nancy Nord.

Click here to listen to an interview (segment begins at 31:24) with the Consumer Federation of California’s Richard Holober on the CPSC scandal and what it means to consumer safety.

The Center for American Progress details the developing story:

Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved
a bill strengthening the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) by
raising its budget, increasing its staff, and granting it "broad new powers
to police the marketplace" in the name of consumer safety. The vote
came over the opposition of an unlikely foe: the head of the CPSC,
Nancy Nord.

The New York Times reported that Nord objected to "provisions that would increase the maximum penalties for safety violations
and make it easier for the government to make public reports of faulty
products, protect industry whistleblowers and prosecute executives of
companies that willfully violate laws." According to her spokesman,
Nord worried that the new regulations would "put the agency in court" rather than strengthen enforcement. Nord’s opposition comes after half a million toys imported from China were recalled earlier this month, adding to the millions that have already been recalled for containing dangerous levels of lead and other safety concerns.

Though parents are worried
about their children’s safety, the CPSC brushed off the latest recall.
"A lot of what is being recalled is because it violates the law, not that there is an imminent health risk,"
CSPC spokeswoman Julie Vallese said. The CPSC’s stonewalling of
effective reforms plays along with the White House’s determination to
move towards even greater deregulation across government agencies at a time when the questionable safety of products demands increasing oversight. Straight from conservative ideology, Bush’s determination to "leave it to the market" — even at the expense of safety — has failed the American public.

CRONIES IN POWER: Bush’s first CPSC chair, Harold Stratton, assured the business world that he would "break the barrier of fear" by making it more difficult to order product recalls. After Stratton stepped down last year, Bush nominated Michael Baroody, the executive vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), to head the CPSC. NAM is "a trade group that opposes aggressive product safety regulation" and "has called for weakening the Consumer Product Safety Commission." With NAM, Baroody opposed asbestos regulations, highway safety reform, and government action to combat global warming. Consumer groups, including Public Citizen, Consumers Union, and the Consumer Federation of America, cried foul, "saying he could not possibly be an advocate for consumer safety having represented industries the agency regulates." "It’s sort of astonishing
that the administration would pick someone from a regulated industry,"
Rachel Weintraub of the Consumer Federation of America said. Facing
mounting criticism — which only increased when it was revealed Baroody
would receive a $150,000 severance package
from NAM upon taking up his new government post — Baroody was forced
to withdraw his nomination on May 23, the day before his Senate
confirmation hearing.

UNFIT FOR THE JOB: After Baroody’s withdrawal, Bush appointed Nancy Nord to serve as acting head of the CPSC. Unfortunately, Nord is cut from the same political cloth as Baroody. She had been a lobbyist for Eastman Kodak, the executive director of the American Corporate Counsel Association, and the Director of Consumer Affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "Given her background, it is unsurprising
that Nord does not recognize the challenges facing her agency or the
American consumer," a report released yesterday by the Campaign for
America’s Future noted. Nord’s current resistance to legislative
reforms — which would increase the CPSC’s budget and staff — has
perplexed lawmakers. Yesterday Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)
called for Nord’s resignation.
"Any commission chair who does not, in the face of the facts that are
so clear, say we don’t need any more authority or any more resources to
do our job, does not understand the gravity of the situation," she said. "I call on the president of the United States to ask for her resignation." This is not the first time Nord has rubbed lawmakers the wrong way. Last month, when she was asked to testify about the safety of toys imported from China, she said she would "rather go to the dentist."
The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank noted that "instead of showing
contrition, Nord treated the lawmakers as if they were impertinent

FAILURE OF CONSERVATIVE PRINCIPLES: The politicization of the agency, coupled with the Bush administration’s adherence to a flawed conservative ideology, has crippled the CPSC. In its first year of operation in
1974, the CPSC had a staff of 786 and a budget equivalent to $146.6
million in today’s dollars. Today it operates with a budget of
only $62.3 million and 420 full-time employees.
Now is not the time to scale back regulation of product safety, as
imports of consumer goods from overseas have reached an all-time high.
For example, the Toy Industry Association estimates that 80 percent of all toys sold in the United States are imported from China. Because of this deregulation, millions of children going trick-or-treating tonight to celebrate Halloween will be at greater risk than ever before from products made outside the United States, including tainted costumes and plastic candy buckets.
Even when faced with safety risks to kids, conservatives would rather
allow the markets to regulate themselves and consumers to fend for
themselves. "As this point, when it comes to imported products, American are basically on their own,"
notes the Campaign for America’s Future. "[T]hey can’t rely on what
they need — active and efficient government regulation and inspection
that can protect our children and insure that our safety standards are
met. It is past time for that to change."