Monday, November 5, 2007

This post brought to you by the letters "C" & "I"

“C” is for Conflict and “I” is for Interest.

And when the head of the Consumer Products Safety Commission is taking trips on industry tabs – that’s a textbook case of conflict of interest! Of course, this is the Bush kleptocracy, so no one should be surprised.

Nancy Nord, the current chief of the CPSC and her immediate predecessor have taken dozens of trips on the largess of industry, lobbying groups and lawyers representing clients whose products had been linked to consumer hazards.

Records obtained by the Washington Post document 30 trips taken by acting chairman Ms. Nord, and previous chairman Hal Stratton that were financed in whole or in part by manufacturers and trade associations.

[keep reading]

Most notable among the “gift travel” was an 11-day junket to China and Hong Kong taken by Stratton in 2004. That trip was financed by the “American Fireworks Standards Laboratory, a specious entity with an office in Bethesda, MD – but all of their labs are located in Asia. The junket is defended with a weak tea of a justification – the group had no business pending before the CPSC. Since that time, however, the fireworks group has encouraged the commission to adopt the safety standards the group wants in place, and that action is pending.

Consumer watchdogs have been complaining long and loud that the agency is too cozy with the regulated industries, and opting for “voluntary” standards – the sort of regulation of the industry that would make Irwin Mainway blush.

Let me take a moment to pre-empt the “Clinton did it too!” crowd. No – the CPSC wasn’t run by corporate stooges under Clinton. Ann Brown, who served as chairwoman from 1994 to 2001 was adamant that all travel be only at the expense of the agency itself or the media. Sometimes the media would sponsor appearances where recalls were announced. “We hated to have an industry pay for our staff for anything” said Pam Gilbert, an attorney who served under Brown.

Government-wide regulations on travel are explicit in stating that government officials not accept travel or other gratuities from non-federal sources if it would create a situation that “would cause a reasonable person…to question the integrity of agency programs or operations.” In other words, if it looks like a quid pro quo and walks like a quid pro quo and talks like a quid pro quo – it’s pretty freakin likely that it’s a quid pro quo. .

Ethics experts and lawyers said the travel by Stratton and Nord created an absolute conflict of interest. “This is a blatant violation of the ethics code,” said Craig Holman, an expert on government ethics for Public Citizen.

It is my opinion that regulatory agencies need to be Caesar’s Wife. There can be not even the slightest whiff of impropriety. The head of the CPSC and a trade association representative shouldn’t even share a cab uptown in the pouring rain.