The Woman Who Has Become the Symbol of Toxic Trade

05/25/2011 12:15 pm ET

It hasn't been easy, but Nancy "No Action" Nord has become the symbol of toxic trade, an odd position for the acting chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Yet, she's truly earned the warning red circle and slash over her image and the demands for her resignation that came this week from U.S. Senators and Congressmen.

The lawmakers were outraged because Nord rebuffed their offers to beef up her anorexic agency. She told the Senate Commerce Committee she didn't like and didn't need its Consumer Product Safety Commission Reform Act of 2007 that would more than double the agency's budget over seven years; give her 400-member staff another 100 workers, and increase its fining power from the current $1.85 million to $100 million.

Nord snubbed the committee despite the fact that her budget and staff are just about half of what they were when the agency began operations in 1974. She preferred to refuse help although imports have quadrupled since then, and the CPSC has been inundated recently with recalls of dangerous imports, from tires to toothpaste to toys.

No, thank you, she told the Commerce Committee. If you give me all that money and responsibility, my little old agency will be overwhelmed and unable to even continue the crappy job it's doing.

No question about the crappy job. Consider this: Americans pay their tax dollars to support the CPSC, which then uses that money to conspire with corporations that make products that injure American consumers. It's true. Here's how it works.

Manufacturers and retailers are required to report defects to the CPSC, and the commission may order a recall if the product poses a safety threat or violates a standard, but the CPSC usually does not alert the public to the danger until it reaches an agreement with the manufacturer concerning the recall. In other words, Americans pay the CPSC to negotiate a recall while Americans continue to be endangered.

And that's the way Nord likes it. She told the Commerce Committee she objected to its attempts to lessen confidentiality.

Who is this woman? Well, before the CPSC, she was a lobbyist and an official at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Yes, the Chamber of Commerce, not some chamber of consumers. She's on the side of business. That's how she became the symbol of toxic trade.

Still, she didn't do it all by herself. She had a lot of help from the Bush administration, which, of course, appointed her.

She was part of the Bush plan, which works like this. Get as many free trade deals as quickly as possible so that American corporations can move their manufacturing operations overseas, where labor and environmental regulations are lax or nonexistent. At the same time, gut federal agencies like the CPSC that provide consumers with some protection from dangerous imports. The bottom line for corporations: huge profits. And if they just happened to be big-time Republican campaign contributors, all the better.

The bottom line for the rest of us: lost jobs, lost consumer protection and now, potentially, lost retraining as Bush threatens to veto legislation to provide aid for workers displaced by international trade.

That is what the Bush administration means when it talks about smaller government. That is the outcome it wants.

Well, if Nord is a true believer in small government, she should do us all a favor and accede to those calls for her resignation from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, and Congressmen Bobby Rush of Illinois and Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut

That would at least reduce government by one. The result would be that CPSC, which is supposed to be overseen by a five-member board, would be reduced to a board of one -- Thomas H. Moore. He's a holdover from the administration of former President Bill Clinton.

Only two people serve on the board because small-government, hobbled-oversight Bush failed to name replacements for three members who have resigned. The result was a board without a quorum. As Bush continued to dawdle on appointing anyone, Congress passed special legislation last summer to permit the two-member board to act. Still, it has done nothing under the leadership of acting chair Nord.

It is time for "No-Action" Nord to resign and return to the Chamber of Commerce where she belongs. It is time for Thomas H. Moore to take over the CPSC because he actually believes in its mission. He supported the CPSC Reform Act of 2007, which the Commerce Committee agreed to send to the Senate floor for a vote, despite Nord's opposition. Perhaps Congress can pass special legislation permitting a one-member board to act. It certainly would be better than the Nord "No-Action" board.

Meanwhile. a more comprehensive solution would be negotiating fair trade deals that respect international environmental and labor laws while at the same time putting in place proper mechanisms here to protect Americans from hazardous imported products.