The executive director of the Consumer Product Safety Commission has tendered his resignation with an unusual letter attacking the qualifications of the agency's new chairman, Nancy Harvey Steorts.
In his two-page letter of resignation, Richard A. Gross said that Steorts' actions during her first two months on the job has made him worried that she will not fulfill the public trust she has been charged with protecting.
Gross said his chief concerns were Steorts' unwillingness to trust the agency's staff, her inadequate attention to major substantive issues, her failure to seek and follow legal guidance and her reluctance to consult her four fellow commissioners.
Gross, whose resignation is effective Nov. 1, declined to comment on the letter. However, several other high-ranking commission officials made it public, privately saying they agreed with the letter "100 percent."
Saying he was offering some "unsolicited advice," Gross criticized Steorts for relying on consultants and employes transferred from other government agencies for advice. "You must learn to trust the staff. They are not wild-eyed or doctrinaire . . . Your persistence in relying on outsiders -- consultants and interlopers from other agencies, supposed experts and the like -- in preference to professionals in line positions within the agency has already alienated senior management."
Gross added, "You must learn to seek and follow the best legal guidance you can get . . . You have already found yourself involved in minor embarrassments on personal matters which should have been avoided."
Although the letter does not specifically mention these embarrassments, agency officials say Gross was referring, among other things, to the criticism Steorts received for spending $10,000 for redecorating her office and for ordering the agency's driver to wear a suit whenever he drove her around town.
Saying Steorts has been "consumed with unimportant and nonsubstantive matters," Gross went on: "Absent an adequate grounding in the substance of issues before you, I fear you will have trouble keeping that commitment" to health and safety issues needed for the job.
The letter was sent on Tuesday, just one day before Steorts was criticized publicly by several of her commissioners for her reorganization proposals to meet a $1 million shortfall under the latest round of presidential budget cuts.
Although she had been promising several reorganization options for the past two weeks, she did not make them available to the other commissioners until late Tuesday night, the night before they were to vote on them. They were contained in a half-page description.
"In all due respect, I must say I am affronted by this procedure," Commissioner Stuart M. Statler told Steorts at a commission meeting yesterday.
"In the past, when we made decisions, we always had information before us preferably a week to two weeks ahead of time . . . I have to say I resent the fact that the night before our deliberations, we get 10 options which will make for a drastic restructuring -- and all we have is a line or two discussing what that option is about," he added.
By a 4-1 vote, with Steorts in the minority, the commission then voted against Steorts' reorganization proposals, which would have called for laying off dozens of employes.
Instead, they agreed to a proposal by Comissioner R. David Pittle to meet the budget reduction by management efficiencies and, if necessary, by furloughing the agency's 628 employes for as many days as necessary -- possibly as many as 12 -- to make up for any remaining deficit.