A chart in the Sunday Business section listing industry safety standards initiated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission erroneously included "controllers" instead of "strollers." The chart also listed Stuart M. Statler and David Pittle as previous chairmen of the commission. They were acting chairmen.
Four years ago, at the beginning of President Reagan's first term, David A. Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget, vowed to strip the Consumer Product Safety Commission "down to the bone."
So consumer groups were not surprised last week when OMB ordered the CPSC to slash its budget by 30 percent and its staff by 25 percent. Surprised, no. Angry, yes.
"OMB is trying to bleed the agency," said Mary Ellen Fise, product safety director of the Consumer Federation of America.
"In 1981, OMB sent us up the creek without a paddle -- this year, they're drilling holes in our canoe," exclaimed CPSC Commissioner Stuart M. Statler.
The surprise came at the end of last week, when OMB withdrew its proposed cutbacks at the urging of Terrence M. Scanlon, who was sworn in as chairman Dec. 31.
Instead of cutting the agency's funds from its current $36 million budget to $25 million, OMB will require CPSC only to make the 10 percent administrative cuts and 5 percent personnel pay cuts that the budget office has ordered from all federal agencies, Scanlon said. OMB will not order its proposed 25 percent cut in CPSC's staff, Scanlon said.
Not only the budget, but also the composition of the CPSC, was in flux last week. With the departure of Chairman Nancy Harvey Steorts and Scanlon's ascension, a commission seat remains open. Congressional sources said that Camille Haney from Wisconsin, who was pushed as a candidate for the chairmanship by Sen. Robert W. Kasten Jr. (R-Wis.), doesn't want the commissioner's seat.
One contender for the open seat is John P. Mackey, a former FBI agent who is now counsel and executive assistant to Scanlon, sources close to the commission said.
Reactions to CPSC's tumult last week ranged from confusion to skepticism. "We just don't know what's going on over there," said a congressional staffer involved with the agency.
Some consumer groups doubted that CPSC is really out of the We just don't know what's going on over there. -- Congressional staffer woods, even with OMB's apparent change of heart on its budget.
"OMB is using Round 1 in their budget process to dupe agencies into believing they have achieved a victory in Round 2 when in fact OMB has still made significant cuts in their budget," said Fise of the Consumer Federation of America.
CPSC Commissioner Statler was also skeptical about OMB's reversal.
"It's a well-perfected 'bad cop-good cop' ploy," Statler said. "OMB rattles the administration sabers and threatens to dismember our budget by 30 percent. Then it negotiates with its hand-picked chairman for a 'surrender with honor' that slashes us 10 percent, taking inflation into account. This is on top of a 30 percent swipe four years ago and, all told, a 36 percent slash in staff. So, we're supposed to be grateful that, instead of wholesale destruction, we only have to give up a pound of flesh. I can't accept that, and hopefully Congress won't."
Scanlon, however, defended the new CPSC budget figures and said that the "commission can now provide product safety without any real problems at the compromised dollar level." He also said that the agency "has a lot of fat" and can make some reductions.
Scanlon, a deregulator who vigorously supports the use of voluntary standards over mandatory ones for industry, says he was not always a conservative thinker. In fact, Scanlon said, he was once a "liberal Democrat."
In 1963, Scanlon left his position as a management trainee at Woodward & Lothrop department stores for a job at the White House. There, he worked for four years under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.
"I gradually changed my political philosophy," Scanlon said in an interview last week. After the White House, Scanlon worked at the Small Business Administration, where he said he assisted in developing the agency's initial minority business program.
Scanlon and his assistant Mackey have both been active in the right-to-life movement. Scanlon was active in trying to throw the Planned Parenthood organization out of the charitable contribution program for federal employes. Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) voted against Scanlon's confirmation as a CPSC commissioner for that reason, sources said.
When asked whether he was still involved in that movement, Scanlon replied he "may still be a local officer on paper," but he hasn't been active while on the commission. "I'm pro-life," Scanlon said. "But, so is Ronald Reagan."
Scanlon went to the Minority Business Development Agency in the Commerce Department after SBA. "After working for 14 years with minority business, I became very sensitized to government regulation," Scanlon said. "Regulation often makes you pay more money for a product. So, I do a cost-benefit analysis on all the activity that has come before me."
The Consumer Federation of America, however, has done its own cost-benefit studies and said last week that any cuts the OMB makes now in the CPSC would cost millions of lives and injuries along with billions of dollars.
Since the creation of the agency, there have been over 6 million fewer deaths and disabling injuries in household accidents, according to the CFA. Total economic savings have been over $21.2 billion to consumers, business and the government, the CFA estimated.
From 1973 to 1983, the safety agency has cost the government less than $250 million, according to CFA. "It's the taxpayer's best bargain," said Alan Fox of CFA.
CPSC's entire annual budget is less than one hour of expenditures by the Pentagon, consumer advocate Ralph Nader said last week.
Cutting back the agency any further, the CFA said, will seriously endanger the consumer. A one-year delay in the effective date of past mandatory standards and product bans means 2,000 deaths, 90,000 injuries and $270 billion in medical costs and lost wages, CFA reported last year.
Since its inception, the CPSC has suffered far greater cuts in resources than other health and safety agencies, Statler said. From fiscal 1974 through fiscal 1986, the agency's funds have been slashed by 52.4 percent. Two years ago, the agency was cut from approximately $43 million to $32 million.
Since fiscal year 1982, the CPSC has trimmed its administrative services personnel by more than 28 percent and has relinquished 33 percent of its building space.
"OMB thinks we're kind of tasty morsels in the refrigerator," Statler said. "They keep opening the door for little nibbles, and before anyone notices we'll be gobbled up."
Officials at OMB would not comment on the agency's new budget. OMB spokesman Ed Dale would only say that the reason for the cuts was "our huge federal deficit."
But that explanation only reveals part of the story.
When Stockman testified on Capitol Hill three years ago, he emphasized that his proposal to cut CPSC funding was "not designed solely to reduce the size of the federal budget. . . . Rather, these budget reductions form an integral part of the administration's efforts to redirect regulatory policy in order to reduce the burdens that misguided efforts have imposed upon the American economy."
The safety agency, Stockman said, has "embarked on activities inconsistent with sound economic principles and with plain common sense."
CPSC is not a consumer protection agency, Stockman added, but an agency built by professional consumer activists who are more interested i ons of product hazards, but can't do so now.
Poison prevention efforts, involving highly toxic chemicals such as lye, caustic detergents and cleansers, have been truncated. Toy safety compliance by industry can't be as closely monitored, and testing for lead in paint on toys is being cut altogether. The agency can't follow through on its plans to develop age-labeling guidelines for children's products, Statler said.
CPSC resources are no longer adequate to guarantee quick turn-arounds on a range of recalls and corrective actions, from "roto-tillers that get stuck in reverse and mangle feet and legs; to snowmobiles with metal tracks that dangerously fly off in all directions; to metal clamp lamps that become electrified; to cribs with headboard cut-outs which choke off infants . . ," Statler said.
A decade of budget cuts and personnel reductions has left the CPSC a "wounded agency," Statler said.