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Consumer Protection Chief Nord Under Fire

Consumer advocates question whether Nancy Nord has the independence to energize the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nancy Nord is clinging to her job as head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, roundly criticized for perceived delays in the recalls of dangerous toys and other products and allegations that she and her predecessor accepted thousands of dollars worth of free trips from industry.
 
Nord was expected to defend her actions in an appearance Tuesday before a House committee.
 
Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats demanded Nord's resignation after she opposed a legislative measure that would in part authorize the hiring of more staff and a doubling of CPSC's budget. Nord says she opposes separate provisions in that measure that would extend protections to whistleblowers and make it easier for the government to make public reports of faulty products.
 
Nord and her predecessor as chair, Hal Stratton, also reportedly accepted free trips worth thousands of dollars at industry expense. The purported aim: To share information with industry about ''CPSC priorities'' and discuss toy safety.
 
Nord has said all trips were cleared by CPSC attorneys. She has requested the Office of Government Ethics to review whether the trips created, as critics say, an improper appearance of conflicts of interest.
 
''I don't plan to resign,'' Nord told The Associated Press in a recent interview at CPSC headquarters in Bethesda, Md. ''I have said repeatedly that I would welcome more resources. ... We need the right proposals, we need the right tools to do our job.''
 
Nord is acting chairwoman because the chair's position remains unfilled. Bush's pick to head the safety commission, Michael Baroody, withdrew his nomination in May after strong opposition from some Senate Democrats because of his career as a manufacturers' lobbyist.
 
Asked in an interview Tuesday with CBS' ''The Early Show'' whether it was time for Nord to resign, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said, ''Nancy does a good job, and she has a difficult job.''
 
Still, with the holiday season rapidly approaching, consumer advocates question whether Nord has the independence to energize a CPSC that has seen a record number of recalls involving millions of lead-tainted toys and other products this year.
 
''Acting Chairman Nord is totally wrongheaded in her approach. She's forgotten that it's the Consumer Product Safety Commission, not the Business Product Safety Commission,'' said Ann Brown, who chaired the CPSC during the Clinton administration.
 
After a wave of toy recalls this year that some parents complained were too slow to be announced by the agency, Nord embraced calls for more money.
 
But now she is now hedging on the Senate measure that is largely opposed by the manufacturing industry, saying increased penalties and expanded CPSC authority would overwhelm the agency with consumer complaints large and small.
 
Many industry officials praise Nord as ''friendly and accessible.'' They would like to see her show even more flexibility in boosting voluntary rather than mandatory compliance on safety issues.
 
Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumer League, said she has been disappointed by what she called Nord's ''half-measures'' in a post charged with protecting children's products from toys to cribs and clothing. Still, Greenberg isn't calling for Nord's resignation.
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