The Carter administration, in an apparent attempt to phase out the Consumer Product Safety Commission, is seeking to cut the commission's budget allocation from three to two years.
The attempt has met strong opposition from Sen. Wendell Ford (D-Ky.), Committee which has jurisdiction over the commission.
On Monday Ford told administration officials that he wants a three-year budget for the commission and would fight any move to cut it to two years.
Ford met with Office of Management and Budget officials Harrison Wellford and Wayne Grandquist and White House staffer Rick Neustadt Monday. He told them that he felt that less than three years would be an unfair test of the commission's ability to function effectively.
"My impression at that meeting was that this is an agency they pointed to and wanted to get rid of," Ford said in an interview yesterday.
"I've been one of the commission's worst critics," Ford added, "but I see some daylight and improvement. If it doesn't shape up in three years I'll be the first to ask to abolish it."
Wellford said, "We do not rule out the option that the agency might be abolished or put elsewhere, but we have not decided that."
The White House government reorganization team is working on a draft position paper on the future of the CPSC, which it hopes to put on President Carter's desk in three to four weeks, Wellford said.
According to Wellford, who heads up the reorganization task force, the position paper will offer several options, but they boil down to two choices.
Decide now to close down the agency and shift its functions into other existing agencies, including the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Enviromental Protection Agency and the Federal Trade Commission, or
Approve a short-term budget for the agency that would give it a change to prove itself under its newly appointed leadership.
Hill staffers say that OMB wants to abolish the agency to demonstrate the administration's commitment to streamlining government.
But others in the White House have fought that plan, pointing to recent indications that the CPSC is becoming more effective and less political.
In order to abolish the agency and transfer its functions, the White House would have to ask the House and Senate Commerce Committees to amend the enabling legislation for the case.Such an action is likely to meet stiff resistance from the agency's congressional supporters.
The beleaguered commission has been the target of sharp criticism in recent months for alleged inefficency, but the resignation of Chairman S. John Byington, which takes effect June 30, and the recent addition of Democratic Commissioners Susan King and Edith Sloan have served to quiet the critics for a time. Byington is a Republican.
At Senate Commerce Committee hearings yesterday, Chairman Ford and his committee heard testimony from both consumer and business groups unanimously supporting the reauthorization of the commission for another three years.
Tomorrow morning all five commissioners are scheduled to appear before the committee to discuss their efforts to reorder priorities and set new goals for the agency.