Monday, March 05, 2007

Bush Picks Top Manufacturing Lobbyist to Guard Product Safety; Many Fear Nominee Would Undercut Agency's Mission and Endanger the Public

ABC News
Bush Picks Top Manufacturing Lobbyist to Guard Product Safety
Many Fear Nominee Would Undercut Agency's Mission and Endanger the Public

WASHINGTON, March 3, 2007 — - President Bush has picked the manufacturing industry's top lobbyist to lead the agency that guards consumers from defective baby cribs and exploding laptop batteries.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which regulates the safety standards of more than 15,000 consumer products, has been without a leader since last July. If the White House has its way, Michael Baroody, executive vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, will fill that void.

But the nomination felt like a slap in the face to Ann Brown, who held the same job under President Clinton.

"I just think it shows in what low esteem the Bush administration holds health and safety in this country," Brown said. "The National Association of Manufacturers has been the most active … in trying to undermine any of the powers of CPSC."

Brown said that during her tenure, NAM "was always trying to undercut the powers of CPSC."

"We knew when I was at CPSC that anything that NAM offered us was nothing that would enhance our performance, which would enhance our structure. It was always something that would undercut CPSC."

Rachel Weintraub, assistant general counsel at the Consumer Federation of America, said Baroody appears above board ethically, but his nomination raises serious concerns because he represents "positions that are in contradiction with what's in the consumers' interest.

"The issue is whether someone who has represented manufacturers can uphold the mission of the agency without a bias, without a predisposition to always think in terms of what's good for manufacturers," Weintraub said. "There's a conflict between manufacturers and consumers. It's really hard to imagine that he would be able to come to this position without a bias."

In defending the nomination, which is subject to Senate confirmation, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said it's unfair to presume Baroody would be biased just because of his current role.

"Where is the presumption that Mike Baroody does not have sympathy for the Consumer Product Safety Commission," Fratto said. "I mean, having an understanding of business and the work of manufacturers should not be an indictment of a candidate for this position. I mean that's just … absurd."

The nomination comes at a tough time for the agency. The acting head of the CPSC, Nancy Nord, faced a grilling about her agency's shrinking staff at a House subcommittee hearing. The agency will cut 19 positions this year, in what Consumers Union says is the third consecutive year of cuts at the agency.

The dwindling staff size prompted Consumer Reports to report on its Web site that the agency no longer includes childhood drowning as a top strategic priority, though it is the No.2 accidental killer of children in the United States.

And critics say talented staff have been fleeing an emasculated CPSC that is beset by deep internal problems.

"What I have heard from people who have left and from some people who are still there," Brown said, "is that there is not very much activity. Nothing much is being done. And instead of being very active, or proactive, they really have harassed the staff in many ways and created much busy work and reorganization, but not really any substantive advocacy on behalf of consumer safety."

But Fratto asks, "Where have they failed to be active? They've been forcing the recall of record amounts of products. They have incredible tasks before them."

Baroody faces a tough task as well, as Democrats who control the Senate promise they will challenge him to prove that he is ready to uphold the mission of the agency.

Asked whether the Senate ultimately would confirm Baroody, Fratto said, "We'll see. We're hopeful."