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Bush's choice for consumer post criticized

Michael Baroody works on behalf of the nation's manufacturers. `It's the fox in the chicken coop,' one critic says.

March 02, 2007|James Gerstenzang | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Bush said Thursday that he would nominate a senior executive of the largest organization representing the nation's manufacturers to head the government agency assigned to protect consumers from dangerous products.

Bush's choice of Michael E. Baroody, executive vice president of the National Assn. of Manufacturers, to be chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission drew an angry response from consumer advocates and predictions of a tough battle for Senate confirmation from the Democratic majority.

Critics, noting Baroody's work for an organization that aims to ease restrictions on a long list of companies making consumer goods, said the nomination would reflect an administration effort to restrict government regulations by executive order and action, rather than by congressional approval.

"I think it's shocking," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, a watchdog group founded by Ralph Nader. "It's the fox in the chicken coop."

Claybrook, who led the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration under President Carter, said, "They wanted a hard-liner in the agency to push it into the deregulation mode."

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, established in 1974, issues safety standards for a wide range of products, including lawn mowers, toasters, toys, clothing and furniture -- nearly all consumer products except motor vehicles and guns.

It investigates reports of dangerous products, issues recalls and shapes regulations. It also has the option of taking no action on complaints or investigations.

The panel has not had a chairman since July; only two of its five seats are filled. Under its regulations, the commission is unable to take formal action after more than six months without a quorum. It hit the mark in January.

Baroody, 60, was an assistant secretary of Labor and director of public affairs under President Reagan. He also was a speechwriter for Bob Dole when the Kansas senator was chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Both in government and out, Baroody has tangled with advocates of greater government regulation to protect public health and safety:

* In 1988, as assistant secretary of Labor, he defended the Reagan administration's record in protecting workers despite delays in issuing safety rules and efforts to weaken regulations.

* In 2000, he fought an ergonomics rule -- put into place by the Clinton administration -- that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said was intended to prevent 300,000 workplace accidents and injuries.

* In 2001, speaking for the National Assn. of Manufacturers, he criticized a Supreme Court ruling rejecting arguments that the Environmental Protection Agency had acted unconstitutionally when it issued standards for limiting smog and soot.

Baroody's nomination must be considered by the Senate Commerce Committee before being voted on by the Senate.

"I intend to give his nomination thorough scrutiny," Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), a Commerce Committee member, said in a statement.

"Here was a golden opportunity to put a true champion of consumers onto a very important commission, and instead President Bush selected someone who represents the special interests," she said. "This administration seems incapable of doing anything in the public interest."

Republican lawmakers did not return calls seeking comment.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has received no increases in funding, according to Democratic staff members on the Senate Commerce Committee, forcing it to reduce staff and workload because its budget mandates cost-of-living increases for employees.

One staff member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Democratic senators were concerned that the commission's staff had been deprived of its expertise by what amounted to budget cuts imposed by the Bush administration.

Baroody also was president of the now-defunct National Policy Forum, a Republican-oriented policy research group. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame.

james.gerstenzang @latimes.com

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