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Will Gall become CPSC chairman--and will Ann Brown resign or stay?

Most observers are predicting that President-elect George W. Bush will name Commissioner Mary Gall as the new chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Gall is the only Republican on the three-member commission. She has served on the Commission since her first appointment by President George Bush in 1991, and in 1999 was re-nominated by President Clinton (with the support of the congressional Republican leadership) and confirmed by the Senate for another seven-year term.

Gall has been a frequent opponent of some of the more onerous regulatory policies of the current chairman, Ann Brown, a Democrat. But Brown and Commissioner Thomas Moore outvote Gall on most issues.

If she were to become chairman, Gall is said to be considering a review of some of the internal delegations of authority by the Commission to the staff. In recent years, CPSC career staff has had little restraint by the commission in handling enforcement cases, with minor exceptions.

Under the reign of Chairman Ann Brown, for example, the compliance staff has been far more aggressive in using "administrative complaints" against companies that will not knuckle under to its demands.

While CPSC is an independent agency and Commissioners serve fixed terms, the chairman serves at the pleasure of the President. Should the new President nominate Gall as chairman, and if she were to be confirmed quickly, Brown would have the option of remaining a Commissioner until her term expires in 2006, or resigning. But if she opted to stay, she and Moore could still block any policies proposed by Gall--a situation that would stand in the way of any positive change at the agency.

The only clue to Brown's plans was an interview by a trade publication which quotes her as saying that she intends to remain at the helm of CPSC as long as possible, noting that it may take a long time for Bush transition officials to look at CPSC. (Brown was nominated by President Clinton almost two years after the 1992 election, so she maintains that there will be plenty of time before there are any changes at CPSC.)

Brown is seen as adamant that she will not moderate her policies in the interim. She reportedly reassured the staff at the agency that they would remain in their positions during the period before Bush acts to name a new chairman. She also says that it will be "business as usual--plus" until then.

This poses a problem for the regulated community, since many of Brown's pet projects could come to fruition in the interim if the Bush transition takes too long to name her successor. Many at the agency feel that Brown would resign rather than return to Commissioner status--but that is by no means certain. If she chose to stay, one option would be for the President to nominate--and the Congress to fun--the two other commissioner slots that are not currently filled. During the Administration of President Ronald Reagan, Congress cut appropriations for the two additional slots (the statute still calls for five commissioners) as a budgetary measure. CPSC has operated with only three commissioners since then. This particular scenario is not seen as likely, but the threat of filling the other two top posts might be enough to force Brown out. She would undoubtedly return to her role as consumer safety advocate in one of any number of activist organizations.

Product safety issues in the pipeline include the effort to ban baby bath seats, the possibility of further regulation of products containing phthalates, and a mandatory standard for upholstered furniture flammability. Other pending issues are: lead in candle wicks, regulation of hydrocarbons in baby oil and cosmetics, and requirements for child resistant packaging for over-the-counter drugs formerly available only by prescription. The issues (except lead in candle wicks) have all been covered in past issues of CPSC Monitor.
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Publication:CPSC Monitor
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2000
Words:641
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