The White House yesterday issued a statement announcing President Obama’s plans to nominate the former U.S. Representative from Kentucky, Anne Northup, to be a member of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. She would hold a Republican seat on the commission.
If Northup and Robert Adler, a Democrat whom the President nominated in June, are confirmed by the Senate, the CPSC would reach its full five-member composition called for by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. Gaining that full membership increases accountability and, theoretically, responsiveness to the public.
During her five terms in Congress, Northup was a strong supporter of the U.S. manufacturing economy. Her voting record on “Key Votes” as identified by the National Association of Manufacturing’s Key Vote Committee was always between 90 and 100 percent, and she received the NAM’s Award for Manufacturing Legislative Excellence. (Voting record summary.) So Northup appreciates what it takes to create a strong economy.
It’s also safe to identify her as being endorsed by the Senate Republican Leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Presidents defer to the Senate leaders and home-state Senators when selecting political appointees from the minority party.
If there’s any heartburn at all here, it’s that President Obama has chosen to follow the political model when making appointees to this regulatory agency. That’s the approach where the executive rewards party loyalists, often defeated candidates for public office. CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum ran and lost a U.S. Senate race in South Carolina; Northup lost her race for governor of Kentucky. (Adler, it should be noted, was a longtime CPSC staffer.)
The other approach is to appoint experts or people with experience in the regulated subject matter to a regulatory agency. In this model, the regulatory agency is led by people who strive to be impartial arbiters, making decisions purely on evidence, science and the Congressional intent behind the law.
The political model’s strength is that the appointees may be more sensitive to the impact their regulatory decisions have on the public. Tenenbaum, a former state education superintendent, and Northup are both experienced in listening and responding to constituents.
The downside is the appointees often defer to the members of Congress, especially the heads of the committees of jurisdiction and the appropriators. It’s not unusual for staff members of regulatory agencies to grouse that, “Oh, Chairman X has gone up to the Hill to get his marching orders.”
Politics have not served the public, consumers or manufacturers in the drafting and enactment of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. As we have detailed in scores CPSC Update posts, the law has made safe products illegal, deprived consumers of desired products, and put people out of business. The economic costs amount of hundreds of thousands millions of dollars, yet the committee members in charge have dismissed the protests as whining or the pleas of greedy business people.
As a regulatory agency, a CSPC that defers to partisan politics, Congressional dictates and the zealousness of “consumer activists” will NOT be serving the public.
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