The chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission yesterday rescinded a directive by her executive director requiring agency staff members to tape-record all conversations with reporters.
The order by CPSC Chairman Jacqueline Jones-Smith was issued a day after The Washington Post published a story on the taping policy. The commission's new executive director, Eric C. Peterson, had told senior staff in a memo that "tapes should be retained in originating offices and made available if it is necessary to document discrepancies in resulting news stories."
The memo was disclosed by Product Safety Letter, a Washington-based weekly.
Commission spokesman Daniel Rumelt said that Jones-Smith "didn't think it was a great idea."
Commissioner Anne M. Graham had objected to the policy and discussed it with some of her colleagues yesterday. Some staff members said the memo, which also directed that all media inquiries be referred to the public affairs office, seemed designed to muzzle them.
Peterson, who began his job four months ago, had defended the policy as a legitimate "management tool to ensure that when the agency speaks publicly we speak with one voice and the right hand knows what the left hand is doing."
He said the policy was "not intended as an inhibitor of conversation between staff and reporters or as a means of gagging anybody."
The CPSC executive director said he had discussed the policy with Jones-Smith. Asked why the chairman apparently changed her mind, Rumelt said, "It's possible she didn't see the memo and how it finally came out."