Consumer Product Safety Commission “Needs Help,” Critics Say

A Consumer Product Safety Commission Democrat urged Congress to provide more money for toy safety, pleading for patience to let the agency rebuild as the embattled chairwoman clings to her job. Last week, Nord faced criticism for opposing a measure that would have allowed her to double her staff and would have increased CPSC’s budget.

In prepared testimony, Thomas Moore said he was pleased the House was moving to improve product safety standards and provide more money and staff to an agency criticized for perceived recall delays under acting head Nancy Nord.

“The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission needs help,” Moore, a Clinton appointee, told a House Energy and Commerce panel.”It needs additional resources, more staff and greater authority to protect consumers from potential product hazards.”

But he added: “The downsizing and dismantling of the agency has been going on for a while, so I ask you to be patient with all of us at the agency as we rebuild our staff expertise and, with your strong support, refocus our efforts on providing a greater level of product safety.”

Nord in her prepared testimony did not directly address the flurry of congressional criticism lodged against her in recent weeks over recall problems and allegations that she and her predecessor accepted thousands of dollars worth of free trips from industry.

But she made clear that it was important for CPSC and Congress to work together to fix problems as the busy holiday season approaches.

“As acting chairman, I believed that it was important for me to be proactive and come forward to Congress with my ideas to strengthen the commission’s hand in enforcing our laws and protecting the American public from unsafe products,” said Nord, a Bush administration appointee.

Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats demanded Nord’s resignation after she opposed a legislative measure that would in part authorize the hiring of more staff and a doubling of CPSC’s budget. Nord says she opposes separate provisions in that measure that would extend protections to whistleblowers and make it easier for the government to make public reports of faulty products.

Nord and her predecessor as chair, Hal Stratton, also reportedly accepted free trips worth thousands of dollars at industry expense. The purported aim: To share information with industry about “CPSC priorities” and discuss toy safety.

Nord has said all trips were cleared by CPSC attorneys. She has requested the Office of Government Ethics to review whether the trips created, as critics say, an improper appearance of conflicts of interest.

Nord is acting chairwoman because the chair’s position remains unfilled. Bush’s pick to head the safety commission, Michael Baroody, withdrew his nomination in May after strong opposition from some Senate Democrats because of his career as a manufacturers’ lobbyist.

Asked in an interview Tuesday with CBS’ “The Early Show” whether it was time for Nord to resign, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said, “Nancy does a good job, and she has a difficult job.”

Still, with the holiday season rapidly approaching, consumer advocates question whether Nord has the independence to energize a CPSC that has seen a record number of recalls involving millions of lead-tainted toys and other products this year.

“Acting Chairman Nord is totally wrongheaded in her approach. She’s forgotten that it’s the Consumer Product Safety Commission, not the Business Product Safety Commission,” said Ann Brown, who chaired the CPSC during the Clinton administration.

After a wave of toy recalls this year that some parents complained were too slow to be announced by the agency, Nord embraced calls for more money.

But now she is now hedging on a Senate measure that is largely opposed by the manufacturing industry, saying increased penalties and expanded CPSC authority would overwhelm the agency with consumer complaints large and small.

Many industry officials praise Nord as “friendly and accessible.” They would like to see her show even more flexibility in boosting voluntary rather than mandatory compliance on safety issues.

Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumer League, said she has been disappointed by what she called Nord’s “half-measures” in a post charged with protecting children’s products from toys to cribs and clothing. Still, Greenberg isn’t calling for Nord’s resignation.