The Reagan administration, in a late attempt to shift Senate sentiment, has recommended abolishing the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the agency that regulates the safety of thousands of common items.
David A. Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget, made the administration's views known in a letter delivered late Friday to Sen. Robert W. Kasten Jr. (R-Wis.), chairman of a Senate subcommittee that is expected to take up legislation on the agency's future Tuesday.
"Our preference would be to abolish the agency entirely," Stockman wrote. "On balance, we feel the public benefits likely to be secured by the agency in the future are not likely to exceed the costs, especially when one considers that many of the commission's responsibilities can be carried out more efficiently and more effectively by other agencies."
Stockman was sharply critical of the agency's work, charging that the CPSC has ""adventured too far into some areas of regulation" and urging cuts in the agency's budget and statutory mandate.
Although the OMB recommended a 30 percent cut in the CPSC's budget, the letter represents the administration's first firm statement on the future of the agency, an issue now before Congress as part of the CPSC's reauthorization.
In an appearance before Kasten's subcommittee last month, James C. Miller III, and OMB official and executive director of Reagan's regulatory relief task force, never suggested that the administration favored abolishing the five-member, 9-year-old commission.
But among the people calling for the shutdown of the agency is Richard Simpson, the commission's first chairman, who said in an interview this week that the agency had essentially fulfilled its mission and should be abolished.
As recently as last week, key Senate Republicans were considering merging the agency with the Federal Trade Commission. Although that proposal appears to have been shelved, in part as a result of industry protests, key Senate Commerce Committee members are leaning toward cutting back the agency's powers and limiting the CPSC to a one-year authorization.
CPSC acting chairman Stuart Statler, a Republican, said the Stockman letter reflects a "wholesale failure to appreciate the vital safety role and accomplishments" of the agency. Statler, at odds with his three sitting CPSC colleagues, has recommended that the agency be placed under the jurisdiction of a single administrator, possibly as part of a new safety agency that could include the Food and Drug Administration.
Stockman said that if the agency could not be abolished, it should be placed in the Department of Commerce under a single administrator. Statler said he "disagrees vehemently" with that reorganization plan, arguing that the agency's mission would be "given short shrift" in a department that is, in essence, designed to promote rather than to regulate business.
The administration, Stockman wrote, is "not firm" on moving the CPSC to the Commerce Department. But he said the agency belongs in the executive branch, where it would "be subject to greater supervision."
Consumer group leaders have attempted a late lobbying effort to try to save the agency, which is expected to spend $44 million during 1981. Reagan administration budget cuts would trim that figure in fiscal 1982 to $33 million.
The National Consumers League and the Consumer Federation of America have challenged an earlier Stockman assertion that much of the commission's work has been accomplished. More than 30 million injuries and about 30,000 deaths a year occur from dangerous products, CPSC supporters argue.
The NCL argues that the agency must retain its funding and its independence. "An agency mandated to protect the public interest against special interests must not be made vulnerable to political and economic pressures," wrote consumers league Executive Vice President Sandra L. Willett in a letter distributed to Senate members last week.
Stockman said the administration also favors removing the CPSC's authority to regulate so-called chronic hazards, the function of an agency program designed to monitor long-term health effects of products.
Stockman did not address the time period of the reauthorization bill, a key issue facing the Commerce Committee.
"I can't imagine anything that would be more debilitating than if we were, in effect, on a one-year leash," Statler said. "The agency would be a regulatory eunuch and perhaps that is what some would want the agency to be."
Few business groups that testified during CPSC oversight hearings last month favored abolishing the agency, although all suggested sharp cutbacks in the panel's powers.