Chairman of Safety Commission Heads to Law Firm

Hal Stratton headed the Consumer Product Safety Commission for four turbulent years.
Hal Stratton headed the Consumer Product Safety Commission for four turbulent years. (David S. Holloway/ftwp Multi - Freelance)
By Larry Liebert
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 17, 2006

Hal Stratton, whose four years as chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission brought criticism from consumer groups that he was too close to industry, left the agency over the weekend and today joins a Detroit-based law firm.

Stratton is becoming a partner in the D.C. office of Dykema Gossett PLLC, where his work will include advising companies about the product safety issues on which he had been chief regulator.

"The idea is to help them have safe products," he said. "That is the way to do good business."

Stratton, 55, a former attorney general of New Mexico, said the consumer agency's accomplishments since he became chairman in July 2002 included completion of long-pending regulations on mattress flammability, large-scale recalls of jewelry containing lead, and a settlement with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. that involved weekly reporting by the chain on safety issues and a $750,000 penalty for hazards from exercise equipment it sold.

"I pretty much completed the work I could do here, and we're leaving it in pretty good shape," said Stratton, whose term would have expired in October.

But Stratton's critics said the mattress standard was crafted to preempt state regulation and consumer lawsuits, the Wal-Mart penalty was too small and he was too close to business, taking dozens of trips, many of them funded by industry groups.

"Under Chairman Stratton, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has been moving in the wrong direction, to the detriment of its mission," said Janell Mayo Duncan, senior counsel of Consumers Union. "His tenure has been a very big disappointment." She said that the commission has been lax in enforcing safety requirements for imported products and that proposed rules for when companies must report product safety problems would undermine consumer protection.

Stratton said he traveled mostly to meet with industry groups and to give speeches promoting the agency's mission. "I think we've done it exactly the right way," he said. "We have done it through constructive engagement with our stakeholders. Previously, there wasn't a lot of contact with the people regulated."

Stratton, who was born in Oklahoma and is Cherokee, said the regulatory issues he will pursue as a lawyer include American Indian law and gambling regulation. Representation of Indian casino interests has become a sensitive issue because it was a prime pursuit of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

"I'm not sure that one situation has tainted the tribes and what they're trying to do," Stratton said. "My experience in New Mexico and Oklahoma is a lot of that gaming has been beneficial to them. For the first time ever, they have some money to do some things."

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