Saturday, November 10, 2007

Better Policing Needed

Product Safety chief off track

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 11/09/07

Traffic cops too disinterested to enforce the law aren't much use in preventing accidents and saving lives. That's also true of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the lackadaisical federal agency that has let manufacturers run roughshod over consumer protection standards.

A raft of high-profile recalls this year involving imported household items from toy trains to toothpaste brought the feebleness of the commission into sharper focus. Created in 1972, the agency is responsible for ensuring that more than 15,000 products sold for use in and around our homes are relatively safe and free of harmful substances. But unlike its regulatory peer, the Food and Drug Administration, the CPSC has the authority to issue mandatory recalls and impose stiff fines against manufacturers.

However, the agency has been slow to use such powers, in part because it is badly understaffed and underfunded given its scope of responsibilities. Its staff of 400 has fallen by more than half since the agency was created in 1973.

In addition, the agency's leadership seems less interested in protecting consumers than in building friendly relations with the businesses it regulates. The Washington Post, for example, recently reported that acting CPSC Chairwoman Nancy Nord and a former colleague took $60,000 worth of "information-sharing" trips, including junkets to China, paid for by industry.

Given her questionable commitment to protecting the public, Nord should resign.

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