International Trade Commissioner Eugene J. Frank, a former steel industry analyst, created an flap within his own agency and on Capitol Hill yesterday when it became known that he was scheduled to speak on a Pittsburgh radio talk show about the steel industry while his agency is considering a series of complaints against steel importers.
According to the producer of the Roy Fox Show, Frank was scheduled to participate in a debate on the steel import issue, speaking for the U.S. industry, while a representative of the American Institute for Imported Steel was supposed to present the case against quotas or other protection. Then the two men would take questions from telephone callers.
Frank said in a telephone interview that he wants "to paint the big picture" of international trade and not the steel question. If a question on the steel issue arises, Frank said he would not answer.
However, Frank's colleagues at the ITC said that they are worried about his participation and said they wouldn't do anything like that. Declining to be quoted by name, they added that it is not up to them to ask Frank not to participate.
The show's producer, Michael Watkins, said following the program, that Frank was "middle of the road" on trade issues. "We thought Gene Frank would be a little more outspoken, like he normally is."
Frank has come under criticism before for allegedly favoring the domestic steel industry. During preliminary investigations into steel industry complaints, Frank said he found a reasonable indication of injury to the domestic industry by imports in all of the 92 complaints filed against foreign countries.
The other commissioners eliminated the majority of the cases, saying enough evidence of injury to U.S. steelmakers by the importers hadn't been shown. They accepted 38.
Conflict-of-interest laws don't prohibit members of federal agencies from participating on panels or radio and television shows, said Michael Stein, ITC general counsel. "If he talks generally, those types of pronouncements are quite common," Stein said. But he could be in violation of federal law if "the commissioner indicates he has prejudged that case."