President Carter yesterday ordered the federal government to dramatically upgrade its consumer programs and appoint strong consumer advocates to high level posts in each department.
At a ceremony to sign the executive order which also created a new Consumer Affairs Council to coordinate federal consumer programs, Carter told an audience of consumer advocates, "We're in this fight together."
Carter names his consumer advisor, Esther Peterson, to head the new council, and said she was instrumental in drafting the new executive order.
Peterson told reporters in a briefing before the ceremony, that development of the order began shortly after an administration bill to create a new consumer agency was defeated in Congress more than a year ago.
That bill would have created a special agency to intervene in the interest of consumers in all federal agency proceedings. The agency would have also had authority to go to court to challenge regulations deemed to be not in the interest of consumers.
Although the order falls far short of having those wide-ranging powers, "it prescribes a standard for protection of consumer interests throughout the government," Carter said.
Peterson had said in her briefing that after the defeat of the consumer agency bill, "we analyzed the congressional debate and found that they didn't want a new agency because they said it would only be another level of bureaucracy. They wanted it to be done through the existing agencies. That is exactly what we are doing."
She also said that one of the most important aspects of the new order is her receipt of all consumer office budget requests at the same time as the Office of Management and Budget, and she will be involved in securing adequate funding for those offices from the outset of the budget-making process.
Specifically, the executive order calls for a five-part plan to be implemented at each department:
Creating a professional consumer affairs staff authorized to participate on behalf of consumer interests in the development and review of all agency rules, policies, programs and legislation.
Establishing procedures allowing consumers themselves to participate in those processes.
Developing information materials for consumers.
Training staffers to provide technical assistance to consumers and their organizations.
Developing a system to respond to consumer complaints and see that such complaints are considered in the rulemaking process.
Carter gave his agencies until Nov. 25th to prepare draft programs to comply with the order's requirements.
The Consumer Affairs Council, which will oversee the development and execution of the consumer programs, will have high-level representatives from each agency involved.
Mark Green, who heads up Ralph Nader's Congresswatch, and was at one time considered by the White House as a successor to Peterson, called the new order "a small step to start to correct the big failure of post-New Deal regulation -- that while business interests have many avenues of access to bureaucrats, consumers have few or none."
"I hope the new Consumer Affairs Council will publicly and aggressively issue report cards on agencies' consumer performances," said Green.