President Barack Obama is turning to South Carolina's former school superintendent to head an expanded Consumer Product Safety Commission, an embattled agency that has been criticized by advocates for being too cozy with industry.
The president asked Congress Tuesday for $107 million to fund the agency charged with ensuring that products from toys and cribs to ATVs and toasters are safe for use. He is also increasing the number of seats on the commission from three to five.
The budget request falls short of the president's campaign pledge to double the agency's funding, although aides say it is almost three-quarters of the way there.
"We must do more to protect the American public, especially our nation's children, from being harmed by unsafe products," Obama said in a statement.
Obama announced the nomination of former South Carolina Education Superintendent Inez Moore Tenenbaum as chair of the commission. He also nominated Robert Adler, a former lawyer and adviser to the panel, for one of the new positions.
The appointments won quick praise from consumer groups.
"The (Consumer Product Safety Commission) has been chronically underfunded, and the boost in spending will help fill some of the holes in the product safety net," said Ellen Bloom, the head of Consumers Union's Washington office. "Consumers should take heart that this dynamic duo is joining this beleaguered but vital agency."
Would replace controversial chair
If confirmed by the Senate, Tenenbaum would replace acting chair Nancy Nord, who has been a lightning rod for Democrats in Congress and consumer advocates though defended by Republicans and manufacturers.
Nord, a former Eastman Kodak Co. lobbyist appointed by President George W. Bush, came under fire for accepting at least three trips, worth thousands of dollars, from industry, purportedly to share information about CPSC priorities and discuss toy safety. Democrats demanded her resignation.
Nord defended the trips as legal and bemoaned the overall criticism as unfair. She said complaints were motivated more by politics than a desire for meaningful change.
Tenenbaum, who ran for the Senate in 2004, served two terms as South Carolina's education chief. Before that, she practiced law and worked for the state House.
Sen. Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, said he spoke with Tenenbaum and offered to help her win confirmation from the Senate.
"Inez is a very capable person and I know she will do a great job," he said. "I look forward to working with her to improve product safety while ensuring that the government does not unnecessarily burden small businesses and unintentionally destroy jobs."
Adler, who advised Obama during his transition, teaches at the University of North Carolina. Earlier in his career, he spent 11 years at the CPSC as an attorney and adviser to two commissions.
The CPSC, headquartered in Bethesda, Md., has about 430 employees. The agency oversees about 15,000 products.