Carter administration consumer affairs adviser Esther Peterson has moved deliberately toward a goal that until now has been elusive: institutionalizing consumer advocates in government proceedings.
Ever since efforts to create a new consumer agency were defeated in Congress two years ago, Peterson has sought to create special offices to act in the consumer's interest at each regulatory agency.
In fact, many consumer advocates view the present Peterson program as far superior to the one-agency concept in a legislative proposal presented in 1977.
They say, for example, that if all consumer efforts were centered in one agency, it would be easier for opponents to contain consumer advocates. In addition, that agency would have been faced with the difficult choice of choosing which agencies to concentrate on, they point out. That way, it was likely that some agencies would have to be ignored because of limited resources.
But under the new plan, which finally was unveiled at a press briefing by White House aide Jack Watson last week, each agency is guaranteed a consumer voice with its own budget, and its views will be heard at many levels of the rule-making process.
The plan also involves creation of a Consumer Affairs Council, which will oversee the operations of all federal agencies' consumer offices. Consisting of high-level representatives from the agencies, that council has a presidential mandate to make sure the various consumer offices are doing their job.
"I can't overemphasize how deeply committed President Carter is to improving the methods by which consumers can participate more meaningfully in government decision-making processes," said Watson, who also said the new program "will give consumer affairs activities the clout, the visibility, the standards and the tools that are needed to assure that government better serves consumer needs."