Forums / Political & Legal / Obama boosts product safety panel, names new chief

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Reporting from Washington -- In naming a new chairman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission today, expanding the size of the commission and boosting its budget, President Barack Obama said protecting consumers will be "a top priority" of his administration.

The president has nominated Inez Moore Tenenbaum, a former South Carolina superintendent of education, to serve as chairman of the commission. And he has named Robert Adler, a law professor at the University of North Carolina, to fill one of two new seats being added to the three-member commission.

The $107-million budget increase that the president is seeking for the commission represents a 71% boost in the agency's funding since 2007, according to the White House, calling this a major step toward meeting Obama's campaign commitment to double the funding for an agency criticized for lax regulation and coziness with industry.

"It is a top priority of my administration to ensure that the products the American people depend on are safe," Obama said today, in a statement issued by the White House.

"We must do more to protect the American public -- especially our nation's children -- from being harmed by unsafe products," Obama said, voicing confidence that "this new leadership . . . will revitalize the agency and achieve the high standard of product safety that the American people deserve."

JOIN THE CONVERSATION: PRESIDENT OBAMA’S FIRST 100 DAYS
While expanding the commission from three members to five, the president is seeking an additional $107 million from Congress as part of the $3.55-trillion federal budget that he proposes for the 2010 fiscal year starting in October. The president, who delivered only an outline of that budget in February, plans to deliver the details to Congress on Thursday.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission tests a wide range of products -- toys and cribs and strollers as well as toasters and all-terrain vehicles. The agency has been criticized for lax enforcement, allowing unsafe cribs, toys and other products to be sold, as investigations by the Chicago Tribune have revealed.

The CPSC, with about 430 employees, oversees about 15,000 products.

For more than 15 years, the White House says, the agency has operated with three commissioners. In expanding it to five, the White House calls this "tangible evidence of President Obama's commitment" to "revitalize" the agency.

Tenenbaum, once confirmed by the Senate, will replace Nancy Nord, who has become a target of criticism among Democrats in Congress and consumer advocates.

Nord, a former Eastman Kodak lobbyist appointed by former President George W. Bush, accepted at least three trips worth thousands of dollars from industry sources purportedly to share information about the CPSC and discuss toy safety. She has defended the trips as legal.

Tenenbaum, a lawyer who ran for the Senate in 2004, served two terms as the elected South Carolina education superintendent.

Tenenbaum was elected in 1998 and finished her second term in 2007. She had sought the Senate seat of retiring Democrat Fritz Hollings in 2004.

A lawyer, she had practiced health, environmental and public-interest law with the firm Sinkler & Boyd and had been director of research for the Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee of the South Carolina House of Representatives.

Adler is a professor of legal studies at the University of North Carolina law school and law and ethics at the Kenan-Flagler Business School.

He has served as the associate dean of the MBA program and as associate dean for the school's undergraduate business administration program. He served as counsel on the Energy and Commerce Committee, with work in consumer safety, under the chairmanship of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.)

The nominations are subject to Senate confirmation.

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