A top Reagan administration official suggested yesterday that the Consumer Product Safety Commission lose its independent status and become part of a Cabinet-level agency.
The proposal was made during testimony before a Senate consumer subcommittee by James C. Miller III, executive director of the administration's regulatory task force.
Miller testified as the subcommittee led by Sen. Robert Kasten (R-Wis.), closed lengthy hearings on the CPSC's reauthorization, which has prompted a legislative skirmish that will determine the agency's structure and future direction.
"My personal preference is to make it part of a Cabinet department," Miller said, noting that the restructuring would be a "way of giving it a little more supervision.
Miller also noted that such a move would bring the agency under the authority of Reagan's executive order that forces agencies to use a cost-benefit test in issuing new regulations.
Furthermore, Miller said the move, which also would replace the CPSC's five-member panel with a single commissioner, would enable it to respond more quickly to emergency situations.
Kasten, who until yesterday has said little about his intentions for the CPSC legislation, said at the close of the hearing that he soon will prepare legislation "to chart a new course in the area of consumer product safety.
"I have become increasingly skeptical that the commission -- in its present form and under its current statutory authority -- is effective in protecting the consumer and regulating the business community effectively," he said in a statement.
"Frankly, the only solution I see is a fundamental redefining of the commission's authority and structure," said Kasten, a freshman Senate member.
Acting CPSC Chairman Stuart Statler defended the agency as "an effective, responsible and efficient regulatory" commission. But Statler also reiterated his view that the agency should be headed by a single administrator.
Statler proposed consolidating the CPSC's work into a larger safety agency, merging functions of the Food and Drug Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The new agency chief would report to the president, he suggested.
Statler said the CPSC has tried to work with industry on voluntary standards and said the agency was far along in adopting a cost-benefit regulatory apparatus. In fact, Statler said the agency is the first in government to put out for comment a methodology for risk assessment.
Commenting on the administration's proposal to cut the CPSC's budget by about 30 percent, Statler said the cuts would leave the agency in a "largely reactive rather than preventive" function.
Further, Statler said the budget cuts -- which would clash the agency's funding to $33 million from $47 million -- would limit the CPSC's enforcement capabilities and therefore curb its ability to encourage businesses to adopt voluntary product safety standards.