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Consumer commission gets emergency powers

A federal consumer protection agency has regained its full authority to oversee the safety of thousands of household products, but only for the next six months.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A federal consumer protection agency has regained its full authority to oversee the safety of thousands of household products, but only for the next six months.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has been unable to order mandatory recalls, adopt new rules or assess civil penalties since early this year because it has not had enough members to officially meet and take action.

An amendment to a homeland security bill allows the commission, which normally has three members, to meet and take action for the next six months with only two members present. President Bush signed the legislation Friday.

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., pushed the amendment to restore the commission's full powers amid a spate of product recalls, including several involving imports from China.

"What we have here is an agency in distress." Pryor said recently.

Democratic lawmakers also are moving to increasing the agency's budget and enhance its enforcement authority.

The agency has continued to work with businesses on voluntary recalls of products that might be harmful for consumers.

This week, the agency negotiated a recall with the world's largest toy company, Mattel Inc., for almost a million Chinese-made toys because their paint contained an excessive amount of lead.

One commissioner, Thomas Moore, said the lack of commission members has hampered the agency. "Even our ability to negotiate with companies with respect to voluntary recalls has been compromised," he said.

The three-member commission has had a vacancy for a year but was allowed to continue working with only two members until Jan. 15.

On March 1, Bush appointed Michael Baroody to serve as the commission's chairman, pending Senate approval. Baroody withdrew from consideration in May after strong opposition from some Senate Democrats over his career as a manufacturers' lobbyist.