November 2, 2007
Acting Consumer Product Safety Commission Chairman Nancy Nord is under more pressure today in the wake of revelations that industries regulated by her agency have paid for her travel.
The Washington Post reports Nord has traveled to China and other destinations with various industries picking up the tab.
According to the report, both Nord and her predecessor, Hal Stratton, took dozens of trips paid for by the toy, appliance and children's furniture industries and others they regulate. The Post cited internal CPSC documents it said showed the connections.
The records reportedly show that Stratton, and then Nord, made nearly 30 trips since 2002 that were at least partially paid by trade associations or manufacturers. In some cases, the Post reports, some industries paying for travel such as the toy industry have been involved in huge recalls of dangerous products.
The Post revelations brought an angry response from Capitol Hill.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) said such arrangements should be illegal. He said he would introduce legislation that would "prohibit officials at federal regulating agencies from taking travel funded by the industries under their jurisdiction."
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) he will offer an amendment to a reform bill that would add provisions along the lines suggested by Menendez.
"Regulators should not and must not accept travel from those they regulate -- period," Durbin said.
The new revelations may increase calls for Nords resignation. A leading consumer group, along with the Speaker of the House, have said she should be fired or forced to step down.
Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA), a member of the House committee with key oversight of CPSC, also called for an end to the practice of regulatory officials accepting travel from regulated industries.
Under the Bush administration, the CPSC has become an industry lapdog, instead of an industry watchdog it is supposed to be, Markey said.Public Citizen, yesterday called on Nord to step down.
Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook said it's more than odd that, in a year that has seen an unprecedented number of recalls of unsafe products, the head of the agency designed to protect consumers is calling on lawmakers to reject legislation that would double its budget, beef up its authority and expand its staff.
She also says the CPSCs problems are nothing new.
For far too many years, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has failed to properly protect consumers, hiding behind the excuse that it was underfunded and understaffed, Claybrook said. While there was some truth to that statement, it has been ineffective as a shield from criticism because of the very real connections between the CPSC and industry.
Claybrook says the ties between the agency and the industries it regulates were underscored by the administrations recent nomination of Michael Baroody for the CPSCs top job. Baroody was then the executive vice president for the National Association of Manufacturers.
The would-be new chairman had spent most of his professional life as a lobbyist and political operative on behalf of corporate interests, an unreasonable choice for a pro-consumer leadership position, Claybrook said.
The long-time consumer advocate says its apparent to her that the agency is now avoiding any strengthening of the commission if it means that it will interfere with serving corporate interest groups.
She points out that Nord was a corporate lawyer and an official at the United States Chamber of Commerce before joining the CPSC.
Nord drew consumer fire this week when she testified before the Senate Commerce Committee and withheld her support for S. 2045, a measure Claybrook says would greatly strengthen the agency. Claybrook says its apparent the administration doesnt want that to happen.
Nord has failed a critical litmus test by proving she is no friend to consumers, Claybrook said. She does not belong in a position of power and authority and should resign immediately or be relieved of her duties.