At long last, CPSC to get new leadership

At long last, President Obama has named his choice for a new leader of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. But the choice of Inez Tenenbaum is a bit out of left field. She is a prominent Democrat, rumored at one point to become Obama's education secretary. She has no background in product safety.

Obama also proposed raising the CPSC budget by 71% to $107 million -- short of his pledge to double the safety agency's annual spending. Boosting the budget certainly could help the beleaguered agency become more proactive than it has been and step up enforcement.

But while consumer advocates cheer the end of Nancy Nord's leadership, checkered by accusations of her coziness with industry, it's not clear what impact Tenenbaum is going to have on the CPSC.

She is clearly a rewarded political appointee. She was the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate from South Carolina in 2004 -- a lawyer who was twice elected as superintendent of schools in her home state. The National Consumers League offered a modestly upbeat assessment of Tenenbaum, despite her lack of experience in the safety arena.

"Inez Tenenbaum has shown, through her work as South Carolina's Superintendent of Schools, that children's health and safety are a high priority," said league executive director Sally Greenberg. "As superintendent, she worked to fight obesity and to promote nutritional programs in the schools; as Superintendent, she has also had the kind of management experience that will be needed to run the CPSC."

Greenberg had far more effusive praise for Robert Adler, a professor and attorney who used to work for a CPSC commissioner, who was named to one of the two extra seats on the panel -- should they be created. Adler's nomination makes sense. He has spent decades in the field and knows both the legal and practical aspects of implementing product safety initiatives. "He is a highly-qualified nominee who has a depth of knowledge about the CPSC and its authorizing statute, and he will be a strong champion for consumer health and safety," Greenberg said.

In a statement, Obama said: "It is a top priority of my administration to ensure that the products the American people depend on are safe. We must do more to protect the American public -- especially our nation's children -- from being harmed by unsafe products. I am confident that Inez and Bob have the commitment and expertise necessary to fill these roles and raise the standard of safety." The CPSC can't help but head in a better direction, but we'll see if someone who has never dabbled in this nuanced arena can make a meaningful difference.
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