The Bush Administration Values Profits Over People
- From: Too_Many_Tools <too_many_tools@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2007 18:15:44 -0700
This country is long overdue for a new Administration....
Meanwhile your children are being poisoned so companies can have
October 30, 2007
Bigger Budget? No, Responds Safety Agency
By STEPHEN LABATON
WASHINGTON, Oct. 29 - The nation's top official for consumer product
safety has asked Congress in recent days to reject legislation
intended to strengthen the agency, which polices thousands of consumer
goods, from toys to tools.
On the eve of an important Senate committee meeting to consider the
legislation, Nancy A. Nord, the acting chairwoman of the Consumer
Product Safety Commission, has asked lawmakers in two letters not to
approve the bulk of legislation that would increase the agency's
authority, double its budget and sharply increase its dwindling
Ms. Nord opposes 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 whistle-blowers
and prosecute executives of companies that willfully violate laws.
The measure is an effort to buttress an agency that has been under
siege because of a raft of tainted and dangerous products manufactured
both domestically and abroad. In the last two months alone, more than
13 million toys have been recalled after tests indicated lead levels
that sometimes reached almost 200 times the safety limit.
Ms. Nord's opposition to important elements of the legislation is
consistent with the broadly deregulatory approach of the Bush
administration over the last seven years. In a variety of areas, from
antitrust to trucking and worker safety, officials appointed by
President Bush have sought to reduce the role of regulation and
government in the marketplace.
Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, said that Ms. Nord had not
coordinated her effort to kill the legislation with the White House.
But he said that the administration shared many of her concerns and
that Allan Hubbard, President Bush's top economic adviser at the White
House, was preparing to send a letter to Congress "that is probably
even more forceful than Ms. Nord's."
The Senate Commerce Committee is set to vote on Tuesday on the
legislation, which is sponsored by Senator Daniel K. Inouye, the
Hawaii Democrat who heads the committee, and Senator Mark Pryor, the
Arkansas Democrat who heads the consumer affairs subcommittee.
It would more than double the agency's budget, to $141 million, over
the next seven years, raise staffing levels by about 20 percent, and
give the commission broad new powers to police the marketplace. It
would raise the cap on the maximum penalties to $100 million, from
Ms. Nord, who before joining the agency had been a lawyer at Eastman
Kodak and an official at the United States Chamber of Commerce,
criticized the measure in letters sent late last week and on Monday
afternoon to the Democratic leaders of the committee. She was
critical, for instance, of a provision to ban lead from all toys,
saying it was not practical. She said that the proposal to raise the
potential penalty to $100 million "may have the undesired consequence
of firms, as a precautionary measure, flooding the agency with
virtually every consumer complaint and incident." Her concern, she
said, was that the increase in complaints would so overwhelm the
commission that, "true safety issues would go unrecognized in the
She also criticized a provision that would give state prosecutors the
authority to enforce the federal consumer safety laws.
Manufacturers had agreed to another provision that would assign
independent laboratories to test and certify the safety of products,
rather than the agency. But Ms. Nord said she objected to the
provision. She preferred that the agency determine the conditions for
using independent laboratories.
Some of Ms. Nord's complaints were similar to the ones that business
groups and manufacturers have raised, including that the legislation
would be unnecessarily burdensome. But in other areas, like whistle-
blower protection, her complaints went beyond those of industry.
While companies generally have not objected to giving protection to
whistle-blowers in the industries regulated by the commission, for
example, she said it would "dramatically drain the limited resources
of the commission, to the direct detriment of public safety."
While Ms. Nord said she supported the committee's efforts in general,
she issued a more modest proposal than the one under consideration in
the Senate. It would, among other things, increase the maximum amount
of civil penalties to $10 million, create incentives for companies to
halt sales of recalled products quickly, and give the government the
authority to seize assets of a company found to have violated criminal
Senator Pryor said Ms. Nord's objections surprised him.
"It's hard for me to know if it's just ideological or she is just
expressing the wishes of the administration," Mr. Pryor said. "Either
way it comes to the same conclusion, and that is that they say they
want more resources, but they are very reluctant to accept those
Consumer advocates also said they were stunned by the letter.
"It was remarkable to send a letter like that to a committee, when
you're in dire straits and you need increased funding and you've
acknowledged that," said Ellen Bloom, director of federal policy at
The agency has suffered from a steady decline in its budget and
staffing in recent years. Its staff numbers about 420, about half its
size in the 1980s. It has only one full-time employee to test toys.
And 15 inspectors are assigned to police all imports of consumer
products under the agency's supervision, a marketplace that last year
was valued at $614 billion.
Through an agency spokesman, Ms. Nord declined to discuss her
opposition to the legislation.
Ms. Nord's letter was challenged by the Democrat on the commission,
Thomas H. Moore. In a letter last week, Mr. Moore told the lawmakers
that he generally supported the legislation for being "strongly pro-
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