April 20, 2001
President Bush has nominated Mary Sheila Gall to succeed activist Ann Brown as chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), likely signaling a new era of restraint by the agency.
Gall has been one of three CPSC commissioners since being appointed by President Bush's father in 1991. She has been a critic of Brown's activist style, accusing Brown of promoting a "federal Nanny State."
Brown's supporters note that she has not only lambasted business but has also recognized companies that emphasize safety. She established the Chairman's Commendation to recognize outstanding contributions to safety. It has been awarded to 19 recipients, including Procter & Gamble, Toys R Us, Hasbro's Playskool Division and the Whirlpool Corporation.
Brown and Gall have differed recently on the issue of baby bath seats. There have been at least 67 deaths associated with the seats, which are supposed to make it easier for parents to bathe infants 6 to 9 months old. But babies can slip out of the seats and drown if left unattended even for a short time. Brown has wanted to ban the seats while Gall argues that it is the parents' responsibility to use the seats safely.
They've also disagreed on baby walkers. Gall voted against regulating them, saying it's not the manufacturers' fault if parents fail to supervise their children and let them fall down a flight of stairs while using the walkers.
However, Gall has taken a strong pro-safety stance when she feels it's warranted. She voted in favor of a rule to make cigarette lighters child-resistant and also voted for the recent $1.75 million settlement with Cosco, which had failed to report defects in baby products that led to two deaths and hundreds of injuries.
The CPSC is likely to shift towards Gall's views over the next year. After Gall is confirmed by the Senate, Brown plans to leave the commission, which will create a vacancy that's likely to be filled by someone whose views are more nearly aligned with Gall than with Brown.
And what will Brown do with herself post-CPSC? She says she'll start a nonprofit organization to promote product safety. It won't be her first foray into the nonprofit world. For more than two decades prior to her CPSC appointment, Brown was a consumer advocate. She served as vice president of the Consumer Federation of America for nearly 15 years, and was chairman of the board of the consumer advocacy group Public Voice from 1983 to 1994.
Gall served as Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1989-1991). She headed the Human Development Services Agency, responsible for 55 Federal programs (such as Head Start) serving children, youth, families, people with disabilities, the elderly and Native Americans. Gall oversaw a yearly budget of five billion dollars and a workforce of 1000 employees.
Prior to her appointment as Assistant Secretary, Gall served as Counselor to the Director, Office of Personnel Management (1986-1989). She worked directly with the White House Cabinet Council, other federal agencies, federal labor unions and public interest organizations on the subject of managing the federal civil service (3.5 million employees).
A single adoptive parent, she was selected by President Reagan to chair the President's Task Force on Adoption.