US Senate confirms new consumer safety chief

WASHINGTON, June 19 Fri Jun 19, 2009 5:39pm EDT

WASHINGTON, June 19 (Reuters) - A former South Carolina state education superintendent won U.S. Senate confirmation on Friday to head the U.S. Product Safety Commission, an agency criticized for failing to aggressively protect consumers during the Bush administration.

Inez Tenenbaum was nominated for the job in May by President Barack Obama, who said he intended to increase the number of agency commissioners to five from three and boost the CPSC budget to $107 million, a 71 percent jump from fiscal year 2007.

In the 1980s, the CPSC had nearly 1,000 employees, but staffing dwindled to less than half that in recent years.

Consumer groups and some lawmakers said the safety agency became toothless during the Bush administration, citing the CPSC chairman's opposition to additional funding and the 2007 recall of millions of Chinese-made goods with excessive lead levels. Mattel Inc MAT.N recently agreed to pay a $2.3 million civil penalty to the agency for importing and selling toys with excessive lead levels.

The CPSC has jurisdiction over about 15,000 types of products ranging from kitchen appliances to toys to fireworks.

Tenenbaum, a Democrat and early supporter of Obama, unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate against Jim DeMint, a Republican. She served two terms as South Carolina's State Superintendent of Education.

(Reporting by Thomas Ferraro; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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