The Consumer Product Safety Commission has been ordered to cut next year's budget by 30 percent and lay off 25 percent of its work force, including most of its field staff, agency officials said yesterday.
CPSC Chairman Nancy Harvey Steorts said the Office of Management and Budget this week ordered the agency to reduce its current $36 million budget to $25 million in fiscal 1986 and to cut its staff from the authorized 587 employes to 440.
The OMB budget order came at a time when there was a leadership vacuum at the CPSC. Steorts, who resigned in November, will step down Jan. 5, and until yesterday, the White House still had not appointed a successor.
Yesterday, however, the White House named Commissioner Terrence M. Scanlon, a Democrat who is considered a deregulator, to head the embattled agency. Because the appointment comes during the congressional recess, Scanlon will take office immediately after Steorts departs, thereby avoiding the Senate confirmation process until the spring, sources said. As a recess appointment, Scanlon can serve through the 1985 session of Congress if the president does not formally nominate a successor.
Scanlon, 45, has been a member of the CPSC since March 1983 and formerly served in the the Commerce Department's minority business development agency. His term as a commissioner expires in 1989.
During his term on the commission, Scanlon has fought to ease the regulatory burden on industry, arguing for voluntary, rather than mandatory, safety measures.
Scanlon, who has been a staunch supporter of Reagan's economic policies, was named chairman over Camille Haney, a Wisconsin Republican who had the backing of Sen. Robert W. Kasten Jr. (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the CPSC and has responsibility for confirmation hearings for CPSC members.
Scanlon would not comment last night on the budget cuts.
The CPSC has appealed the OMB order, asking that its budget be frozen at its fiscal 1985 level minus the 5 percent pay reduction being requested of all government departments and agencies. This would leave the fiscal 1986 budget at $34.8 million. The agency also asked OMB to freeze its staff at its current level of 568, below its authorized strength.
The OMB called for the 5 percent pay cut, a 10 percent cut in administrative costs and a basic dismantlement of the agency's field operations, according to CPSC officials.
CPSC Commissioner Stuart M. Statler called the OMB directive "mean-spirited" and said "our field is our eyes and ears. They're responsible for the inspection, compliance and in-depth investigation of potential product hazards."
OMB officials would not comment yesterday on the CPSC appeal or the proposed budget cuts.
"It's like s slow dance on the killing ground," Statler said. "I view this constant cutting of dollars and personnel as a gradual dismemberment of the agency. The issue will now be left to Congress."
"The Reagan administration has already massacred the CPSC. Now they want to obliterate it," said Joan Claybrook, director of Public Citizen Inc., a consumer group.
With the suggested OMB cuts, the CPSC will have absorbed an approximately 40 percent reduction in budget since fiscal year 1981, not taking into account inflation, a commission source said. The agency will also have had its staff resources cut by 50 percent, the source said.
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House health subcommittee that oversees CPSC, reacted strongly against OMB's proposed budget cuts.
"If the president proposes such severe budget and personnel cuts, they will be vigorously opposed in the Congress," he said.
"This most recent proposal is only a continuation of the administration's efforts to cripple the only federal agency charged with protecting the public from hazardous toys and other consumer products," Waxman added. "Since 1981, when OMB Director David Stockman first proposed to abolish the CPSC, the administration has pursued a single-minded goal of undercutting the agency's ability to enforce the laws Congress wrote to protect the public."
Some industry officials, however, did not believe that the proposed budget cuts would threaten the safety of the consumer.
"Even with those cuts, the Consumer Product Safety Commission could probably be managed and operated in such a way as to not impair the safety of the consumer," said Charles Carey, co-chairman of the Upholstery Furniture Action Council in North Carolina.
Steorts, however, said, "There is no way that the Consumer Product Safety Commission can exist with a $25 million budget and 440 people in its present structure." "There is no way the agency could do an adequate job for the consumer."
Steorts did not even support the budget and personnel figures that the agency had sought in its appeal to OMB; those figures were lower than CPSC's original request. "This commission, in its present structure, needs a minimum of $35 million and a staffing of 587 people to do the job that has been mandated by Congress," she said.
Statler also opposed the appeal, with its lowered budget and personnel requests. "This is folly," he said. "I'm only hopeful that the president is not aware that OMB is doing this, and that this is only the act of one of the OMB functionaries."
Steorts has been pushing the administration to reexamine the CPSC's structure. She said it might be time to merge it with other federal consumer-protection efforts or restructure it along the lines of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Scanlon, a nephew of former Senate majority leader Michael J. (Mike) Mansfield, who is now ambassador to Japan, has angered consumer groups with his stands, while winning support from industry.