Phyllis Eisen, the new associate director of risk management for the National Association of Manufacturers, is still fascinated with the political climate of Washington.
"The political process is like a never-ending opening night at the theater," Eisen said. "There are times when I look down at the floor of the House of Representatives and I think 'I should be charged for orchestra seats at the rate of opening night for a New York play for the drama involved here,' " she said. And while she admits it might sound trite, she calls the process "the greatest show on earth."
In her new position at the NAM, Eisen will be primarily responsible for two issues -- product liability reform and industry record-keeping. Eisen, who said she "loves the big issues," has represented membership organizations for most of her career.
The group, which has 100 people working in the District and an additional 80 people in three regions across the country, works to keep America's industries competitive both nationally and internationally. The association has more than 13,500 member firms -- firms that account for about 80 percent of the nation's industrial output.
Product liability is one of the major concerns of both manufacturers and consumers, neither of whom Eisen said is "getting a fair shake." The issue, which business interests have been pushing in Congress since 1981, is under consideration in House bill 1115, the Uniform Product Safety Act of 1987. Some consumer groups have opposed the bill, saying it would give manufacturers more defenses against allegations of making defective products. Until now, the issue has traditionally been left up to the states.
"No one wants to go to the day care or the swimming pool and find it closed because they couldn't get product liability insurance," Eisen said. "The consumer needs to appropriately be able to handle their problems in the court and the manufacturer needs some uniformity to know what they are doing too."
"We have a real shot at a piece of real legislation in 1988, and I believe we are going to get a vote saying that we really need a federal standard," she said.
In her job, Eisen hears from about 40 to 50 small manufacturers a week who don't have "big attorneys" working for them. And according to Eisen, 9,000 of NAM's 16,000 members are small firms that are in "deep trouble with these issues. They need to know when they are going to be dragged into court and need to have some guidelines."
Although she was born and reared in Washington, Eisen said she is unlike the typical Washingtonian, whom she said looks at people from outside Washington as someone "in the field."
"That's terribly patronizing," she said. "Everywhere I go I have discovered that people are terribly interested in the world around them. ... They have a lot to say and a lot to offer. We are isolated here in Washington."
Eisen previously served as director of government relations for the V.J. Adduci Co., a private political management consulting firm in the District. There, she specialized in product liability and handled other business issues for Mack Trucks Inc., one of the company's clients.
Over the years, Eisen has done extensive fund-raising and government relations for several nonprofit organizations, including Zero Population Growth, a national advocacy organization dedicated to population stabilization, and the National Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Forum. Eisen remains active in immigration and refugee affairs. "It's important to me that they have a larger share in this country," she said.
Before that, she taught school for 10 years in Montgomery County where she worked with students who had problems staying in school.
"Tip O'Neill once said that all politics are local. Anyone who forgets that loses in the long run," Eisen said. "Everyone can affect change."