By Elizabeth Williamson
Consumer Product Safety Commission chief Nancy Nord yesterday requested an outside review of her agency's travel policies after a report detailing dozens of trips paid by manufacturers' groups for her and her predecessor stoked outrage in Congress.
Nord, the CPSC's acting chairman, defended what she called the agency's "painstaking review" of employee travel, but she added in a statement that "because questions have been raised about the adequacy of these long-standing procedures, I am asking the Office of Government Ethics to conduct a complete review of the agency's travel acceptance procedures."
Since 2002, Nord and former chairman Hal Stratton have taken nearly 30 trips paid for in full or in part by the manufacturers of toys, home appliances, fireworks and other products that the agency regulates, The Washington Post reported yesterday. The CPSC says the travel was legal and did not represent a conflict of interest.
Lawmakers reacted angrily to the disclosure, which came amid a congressional push to expand the agency's powers over the CPSC's and White House's objections. That effort was prompted by a slew of recent recalls targeting Chinese-made toys that contain potentially harmful levels of lead. The House and Senate aim to pass the bill by early December, aides said.
Legislators called yesterday for an inquiry by the agency's inspector general's office into the travel procedures.
A group of eight senators, including sponsors of the expansion legislation, said they will introduce an amendment that bans industry-paid travel by agency employees.
"It shows an astonishing lack of judgment," Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said of the travel.
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the CPSC budget, was more pointed. "I wish [Nord] would resign and the White House would quickly replace her," he said.
Durbin then reconsidered, acknowledging that such a departure would leave the agency without the votes to issue consumer-protection rules.
"As bad as her leadership has been, if she leaves, the commission is legally prohibited from taking any action," he said. "You might as well turn the lights out, and some companies would like to see that happen."
The report on the industry-paid travel fueled complaints among consumer groups and some lawmakers that Stratton and Nord, both Bush appointees, grew too close to manufacturers at the expense of safety regulations.
"Now we know why Nancy Nord opposes efforts to give the Consumer Product Safety Commission more resources," Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said yesterday in a statement. "Who needs more resources when the industries you regulate will pay your expenses for you?"