“The past bickering indicates [the commissioners] may be unable to take action against companies that put unsafe products on the market or to address an emerging hazard that we’re not even aware of right now,” said Nancy A. Cowles, executive director of Kids in Danger, which signed the letter.
Some of the most contentious issues have to do with the rules that govern how often the manufacturers of children’s products must arrange to have their items independently tested. Congress has directed the agency to consider ways to lower the testing costs.
An agency transformed
Just days before Moore stepped down, the commission voted to set timetables for the testing. Republicans slammed the Democratic majority for holding the vote before addressing the cost issue.
“We witnessed a majority putting its last grasp of political power ahead of doing what was right,” Nancy Nord, a Republican commissioner since 2005, wrote on her blog after the vote. She said the way the majority handled the issue was “regulatory malpractice.”
Tenenbaum countered that the commission acted properly in pressing ahead with the testing timetables. She said the agency was already two years behind the schedule that Congress had set when it adopted the 2008 legislation.
That law transformed the agency. To help prepare for the coming crush of work, the legislation boosted the agency’s funding, expanded its staff and enabled the commission to fill all its vacant seats.
Tenenbaum, a lawyer and a former South Carolina schools superintendent, was tapped in June 2009. Democrat Robert Adler, an academic and former CPSC attorney, joined soon after, as did Republican Anne Northup, a former Kentucky congresswoman.
As the pace of work picked up, Republican commissioners took to blogging and writing opinion pieces criticizing various facets of the new rules. Tenenbaum, who long kept her peace, aired her own views in the Huffington Post article, where she accused her Republican colleagues of launching a “coordinated campaign” to ”delay and distort our actions in an attempt to circumvent the will of American families and Congress.”
In a more recent interview, Tenenbaum said she bemoaned the bitterness on the board. “I would like for the relationships to be collegial, but if they cannot be collegial then I will fight on behalf of children no matter what,” she said.
Northup and Nord were incensed by Tenenbaum’s critique.
Northup, who once suggested that the commission should be reduced to just one commissioner in part to save tax dollars, said she was “shocked” at Tenenbuam’s Huffington Post piece.
“Basically, she controls the whole agenda, and she has clearly over many months decided to proceed forward without regard to making concessions or trying to build a consensus,” Northup said.
On a blog posting, Nord featured a cork board with a “Thou Shalt Not disagree with the Chairman” note pinned to it.
“The purpose of having five commissioners is to have a variety of viewpoints,” she said.