Just Say No

Saturday, November 3, 2007

AFTER A DAMNING story yesterday by Post writer Elizabeth Williamson about how the current and former chairmen of the Consumer Product Safety Commission accepted "gift travel" from companies and associations in industries they were supposed to regulate, acting Chairman Nancy Nord released a terse two-paragraph statement. Trips by all employees are reviewed by the agency's general counsel. This "painstaking review" has been in place "for 14 years." But Ms. Nord is "asking the Office of Government Ethics to conduct a complete review of the agency's travel acceptance procedures." There can be only one suitable conclusion: Pay your own way.

Ms. Nord and her predecessor, Hal Stratton, logged nearly 30 trips since 2002 to a number of locations, including China, Spain and Hilton Head, S.C. The total cost was almost $60,000. The rationale that this is a way to be in contact with manufacturers and to hear their concerns -- "Everybody wants to see the chairman," Mr. Stratton told the Post's Ms. Williamson -- doesn't cut it. The Securities and Exchange Commission, the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Communications Commission all ban what the Consumer Product Safety Commission allows.

That commission leaders could not see the appearance problem is just the latest in a string of troubles for the agency. Critics have been dismayed by its limp response to what seems to be weekly recalls of lead-laden toys (20 million toys so far). The commission is half the size it was when it was created in 1973. It has just one toy inspector. But when the Senate Commerce Committee moved last month to increase the agency's budget, authority and staff, Ms. Nord told committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), paraphrasing here, no thanks.

Despite her protests, the Senate Commerce Committee approved a 58 percent budget increase. The House will consider a similar bill. Once the commission gets its influx of cash, maybe it can afford to pay for its own travel and begin to restore its credibility.

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