Chaired By: Senator Mark Pryor
Witness: The Nominee Testifies
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SEN. PRYOR: I'll go ahead and call us to order here.
I want to thank Ms. Tenenbaum for being here, and also want to thank Senator Rockefeller for asking me to chair this today. We are on a relatively tight timeframe here because we have a vote scheduled on the Senate floor at 11:45. So what I propose, with my colleague's indulgence, is that I'll do a very brief opening statement. Senator Hutchison is on her way, but she wanted me to go ahead and start. If she wants to do an opening statement, that would be great. And then I'll introduce our introducers, and then we'll let the nominee speak. And then we'll try to keep our questions to five minutes, if at all possible, because we'll try to move through these.
We understand there are several senators on the way, but they've encouraged me to get started, given our timeframe this morning.
I'm very delighted to have Ms. Tenenbaum here. She is a real breath of fresh air. I'm glad that the White House saw fit to nominate her. I knew that we were in pretty good shape when the day she was announced we had several consumer groups as well as several business groups who came out in support of her. She also has the encouragement and support of her two home state senators.
And we all know, on this committee, we understanding the trials and tribulations of the CPSC over the last few years. I think, just in layman's terms, what's happened is that CPSC had its budget cut and dwindling resources as its challenges have increased. And when we saw this huge influx of products that were manufactured overseas, most notably China, but from a lot of places overseas, the CPSC just quite frankly was not able to keep pace with that and was overwhelmed.
And we've been working on this over the last couple of years in this committee. We were able to pass a bill last year, passed overwhelmingly, went through both houses, went through conference. Unfortunately, since that bill has passed, there's been a lot of controversy about the implementation of that. And most of that has been resolved at this point. There's still a few outstanding issues.
So Ms. Tenenbaum, assuming that she is confirmed, which I don't think there's any question about that at this point, based on what I know, she will inherit a lot of things that she has to get in order and things to fix. And we are very delighted that you're here.
So until Senator Hutchison gets here, if I may, what I may do is introduce Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina for a statement. Welcome to the committee.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'm honored to be here. It's a big honor for all of the people in South Carolina to have Inez nominated for such an important job. And I call her Inez because everybody that knows her feels very comfortable with her as a person. She is an enormously talented person.
I'd like to thank President Obama for nominating her. As you indicated, this is an area where you can make news quickly. The chairman of the Consumer Products Safety Commission really holds the public trust. And I can assure you that the American consumer and their families are going to be in good hands with Inez at the helm of this very important public safety institution.
She has a background that is just, I think, perfect for the job. She was our superintendent of Education from 1998 to 2007. We had the fastest advancement of any state in the nation in terms of national testing among our student population. And that was a real desire of hers to make sure that our students improved, and they did. And at the end of her tenure, our state was recognized as having the most rigorous academic standards assessment and accountability system in the nation. And I think that's important for this job.
You know, in education, you can devise a test for the teachers and yourself or for the students. And a lot of people, you know, make sure that everybody does well on the test. Inez took a different path. She produced, I think, the most challenging test in the nation, to evaluate our students, and the goal was to bring out the best in the students of South Carolina. And she's going to do the same thing here.
Rigor will be applied to the products coming online that will be put into the free market. And I just could not think of a better person with the executive experience. She's been a tireless advocate for children all of her life. She's an environmental lawyer. She's dealt with toxic waste issues. She's, like I say, been around politics most of my life and is the type person that -- (laughs) -- Sam's life, too -- she's the type person that everybody, whether you agree with her or not, respects. And this is a job where the American consumer needs to understand that they have somebody on their side.
The only blemish on her record I can see is that she's got a bachelor of science and a masters from University of Georgia. (Laughter.) A law degree from South Carolina kind of neutralized that.
But all joking aside, I remember what last year was like, what this committee went through. And Inez Tenenbaum has the exact experience we need and, more than anything else, the heart for what we need here. She will look out for the American public. And she will give the American people leadership they deserve. And this organization, that protects us all, will be in good hands. And I recommend her to this committee.
And on behalf of all South Carolinians, thank you for holding this hearing so timely. And I look forward to having her confirmed soon.
SEN. PRYOR: Thank you, Senator Graham.
SEN. JIM DEMINT (R-SC): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I, too, thank you for expediting this hearing.
My only reservation in endorsing Inez is that that endorsement might hurt her with this committee -- (laughter) -- so I hope that you'll overlook that.
We are very proud that she is representing South Carolina. And she has been an advocate for children. She's practiced environmental law and public interest law. She is a serious nominee for this position. And she has dealt with all of the issues in a large, controversial public agency in South Carolina and did that with a lot of professionalism and style.
And as some of you know, she and I were in a hard-fought race for the Senate in 2004. And I was very excited to hear about the nomination. And my support means that I hope she won't run against me again. (Laughter.)
But we are delighted. And I know this committee has had a chance to meet her. There's absolutely no reason that we can't move her through in a hurry and put her at the helm of this agency. As the chairman has pointed out, it has a lot of challenges. We have increased the budget significantly. There will be a lot of people hired. And there's probably no one better qualified to manage all of this than Inez Tenenbaum.
So I definitely support her to the committee and look forward to her confirmation.
SEN. PRYOR: Thank you, Senator DeMint. And we understand at some point you may join us here on the committee. We would love to have that.
And Senator Graham, you're certainly welcome to stick around, but we understand you have a very heavy schedule.
Senator Hutchison has joined us. Would you like to say anything before we turn it over to our one and only witness today?
SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R-TX): No, Mr. Chairman. I'd like to hear from her, and then I will incorporate my opening statement into my questions. Thank you very much.
SEN. PRYOR: Thank you.
Inez Tenenbaum, you come very highly recommended. We appreciate your interest in public service and your willingness to take on this agency and all its very, very important tasks and responsibilities that it has. And we would be delighted to hear your opening statement.
MS. TENENBAUM: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Hutchison and members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
First of all, I want to say thank you to my two senators, Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham. It's an honor to have both of the senators from my state support me. And I want to say that I appreciate so much your being willing to step forward and endorse me to this committee. So thank you.
And I'm honored by President Barack Obama's nomination of me to serve as the chairman of the United States Consumer Products Safety Commission. I thank the president for this tremendous opportunity. And if confirmed by the Senate, I will do my utmost to ensure the safety and the well-being of America's children and families.
I want to introduce my husband, Samuel. He and I have just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. And I thank him for his support and his encouragement during this nomination process. Both Samuel and I were raised in Georgia. He is from Savannah and I'm from a small town called Pineview. My mother, Burnish Rhoades Moore (ph), was an elementary school teacher. And my father, William Robert Moore, had a career in the United States Navy.
Consistent with President Obama's approach to governance, if confirmed as chairman I will ensure that the commission is operated in an open, transparent and a collaborative way and in a manner worthy of the American people.
As the new chairman, I will reassure America's families that their government can and will protect them from unknown and unforeseeable dangers in the products that they use. While emphasizing the lifesaving mission of the commission, I will also ensure that industry knows that their views will be heard and seriously considered.
I want to assure you that if I'm confirmed as the chairman of the Consumer Products Safety Commission, I will be a partner with all of you in protecting the lives and the health of children in our country. My life's mission has been enhancing the quality of life for children and families in South Carolina. This mission has remained constant, though I've worked in different venues and on many different issues affecting the safety, the health and the well-being of the children of my state.
From 1999 to 2007, I served as South Carolina's state superintendent of Education and directed and managed a state agency of nearly 1,000 employees. The Department of Education was a partner with the state's 85 school districts in implementing legislation and policy that was passed by the South Carolina General Assembly.
Prior to being elected state superintendent of Education, I worked in various capacities as an advocate for children and families, a public school teacher, licensing Head Starts, research director of a legislative committee and an attorney in a private practice.
As an attorney, I practiced in the area of health, environmental law and public safety. During this time, I served as the chairman of the Environmental and Natural Resources section of the South Carolina Bar. And before going into private practice, I was the director of a committee of the House of Representatives. And interestingly enough, that committee reported out the first South Carolina Lead Poisoning Prevention and Control Act. We dealt with Drug Product Selection Act and the Hazardous Waste Management Act.
I'm well-aware that if confirmed by the Senate that I would assume the chairmanship of an agency that has faced significant challenges. And I want to assure you that I will work collaboratively with the other commissioners at the commission, as well as with you, to ensure that the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 is implemented in a timely and effective manner.
Those conclude my remarks this morning, Mr. Chairman. And I wanted to say that, if confirmed by you, that I will work with you in a full partnership to implement the laws that you pass. I want you to know that I thank you for your attention today and for your full and fair consideration of my nomination. And I would be happy to answer any questions. Thank you.
SEN. PRYOR: Thank you, and thank you for that statement.
For the senators who have just arrived, it looks like we have a vote scheduled for 11:45, unless somebody tells me that changes. And what I'd like to do is have everyone submit their opening statements for the record and just dive right into questions. And I'll start, and I'll try to keep mine to less than five minutes if I can.
Ms. Tenenbaum, let me ask about your background. I think one of the very significant things you've done in your life is taking on the challenges there in South Carolina with the education system. Can you tell the committee how you think that has helped to prepare you for the tasks that you'll have at the CPSC?
MS. TENENBAUM: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. As state superintendent of Education, I managed an agency with over 1,000 employees. That agency worked to implement policy and regulations that were passed by the General Assembly, and we also worked with the school districts to provide transportation, food service, to provide textbooks, to train teachers in an area of teaching and learning.
And I think what I wanted you to know about that is that I had multiple projects going on at the same time. I had various divisions. And we regularly had to implement legislation that was passed by the General Assembly, many times in a very quick fashion.
I never tried to fight legislation passed by the General Assembly. If it wasn't perfect at the moment, then I worked with the General Assembly and worked with the statute to see if I could implement that statute.
I am very familiar with the regulatory process, due process, writing regulations, carrying them out, working to form consensus with industry, with advocacy groups, with people concerned about the well- being of children, to make sure everyone has a fair hearing. I think that has trained me to know, being in the executive branch, that we are not alone in the executive branch. That if I'm confirmed as chairman that I need to have a partnership with you, to inform you regularly on matters that the commission is involved and to seek your guidance and assistance in carrying out the laws you pass.
SEN. PRYOR: Thank you. And could you talk a little bit about your management style? You mentioned you had 1,000 employees in South Carolina. You'll have 500 here. I think it's fair to say, and I think most people would agree, that there is an issue of morale there at the Consumer Products Safety Commission right now, just for various reasons. And could you talk a little bit about your management style and some of the things you would like to see happen at CPSC?
MS. TENENBAUM: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. If confirmed, I want to assure you that the commission will operate in an open, transparent and collaborative way and in a way that engenders the trust from the president, the Congress and the American people.
The commission will have proper management and accounting controls and operate to the greatest efficiency. I want to employ persons with the greatest talent, integrity and motivation to protect Americans from unsafe products.
One of the things that is urgent is the full implementation of the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act which you passed last year.
We have certification of product that is coming on-line; accreditation of third-party laboratories; tracking labels that are due; a guidance is due in August.
We also have a mandate under that law to increase public awareness of consumer products, and create a website in which consumers can talk about their experiences with products, and search other products. That is one of the largest challenges that we will face, is timely implementation so that we can write regulations so that industry has guidance.
I have heard about the morale at the agency. And I think some of that morale comes from the fact that they've had a large agenda, and they've had a surge of imports, and so much to handle, and yet they did not have the staff in place and did not have the budget necessary to meet all of these challenges.
So, I want to work with you to use wisely the 71 percent increase in the budget that you provided for this coming year -- to hire the people who have the greatest motivation to take to people; and to work to settle many of these uncertainties that have arisen of consequences you may not have anticipated when you passed the Act.
SEN. ROCKEFELLER: Thank you. And I do think this is going to be a work in progress. I mean, I think you need a little bit of time to get your feet wet, and get your bearings there at that agency. So, as issues present themselves, I'm sure the committee would appreciate hearing from you on various things, whatever they may be -- challenges, successes, whatever they may be.
And I think it's probably a good idea maybe for you to come back to the -- either the committee formally, or have a meeting informally with us, say in -- I'll just say 60 days after your confirmation, to give us a sense of how things are going. And if there are specific issues that are still out there, maybe we can talk about those in detail once you're there.
SEN. HUTCHISON: Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I was very pleased to have a meeting with Ms. Tenenbaum last week. And I was very encouraged with her talk of her record of working with the South Carolina legislature, and your position as head of Education in the state. And I think that's a good sign for working with Congress as well.
As you know, we did pass the Act last year. Our chairman was a real leader in that effort. And I think that many good things were done in that legislation. However, there are some glitches, as often happens with legislation, and some areas where there has been a difference of opinion about the intent of some of the language, so I would like to ask you a couple of questions.
First, is the required question that the ranking member always asks, and that is that -- our committee has always worked well with staff in the agencies, and the heads of agencies, and when we are developing or proposing legislation we need the technical expertise. And my question is, can all of our members of our committee count on being able to call into your agency for the expertise that we might need to help us draft legislation or to exercise our responsibility in oversight?
MS. TENENBAUM: Yes, Senator. And thank you for that question.
You will have access to the work of the agency. We have very talented people at the agency. You can talk with the scientists, with the engineers, with the experts in that area, but also we want you to be able to call me at any time, or any member of my staff. We will work with you in partnership.
SEN. HUTCHISON: Well, one thing I think our committee probably will need to do is have a hearing on the act that we passed last year, to see where the kinks are and see where we need to do some technical corrections. Let me ask you one question on that.
You know that -- because we've discussed some of the unintended results impacting thrift stores, charity sales, small businesses, and you've used the word "common sense" in your description of what you think is right in the enforcement arena, so I would ask you if you think the law gives you sufficient flexibility for the commonsense enforcement that I think we agree is the right standard?
And where do you think it doesn't give enough flexibility, and the law is clear even if it is pretty hard to enforce?
MS. TENENBAUM: Well, thank you, Senator.
It would be premature -- and we talked about this in your, in the office, to take a position on whether the law needs to be amended. But, I hope that my tenure at the commission will be seen as a tenure where we worked with people to exercise common sense in a regulatory manner.
Acting chairman Moore has said that we need to wait until the commission is fully formed to collectively make decisions. And I am a collaborator. I want the input of my fellow commissioners, as well as the staff, and also in conversation with you, to talk about: Can we go ahead and implement some areas of the law, or will there be areas which are unclear?
As soon as we can get guidance and regulations in place, industry will know what to do. I know there are some areas, like tracking labels that industry is wondering, 'What are we going to do about this?' And as soon as we can promulgate the regulations, and get guidance in place in all these areas, working with industry to make sure -- and consumers, that their concerns are heard, the less I believe you will hear, here in the Senate, about the law.
SEN. HUTCHISON: Could I ask you one other question, and that is the use of stays of enforcement, where you have found that a business needs more time to comply with the law.
Do you think the stays of enforcement are sufficient, or do you think we need to revisit maybe that area of the law to give more flexibility -- again, when a business does need more time; or in the situation with the youth ATV vehicles where there needs to be some other approach?
MS. TENENBAUM: Well, the commission -- thank you, Senator.
The commission has issued a general stay of enforcement on testing and certification requirements. There are some products that are not included in that, like lead-based paint and pacifiers and cribs. But, they also specifically issued a stay of enforcement for the ATVs to give the industry more time to look at removing lead -- to see if they could remove lead from the ATVs without jeopardizing structural integrity.
To me, the stays of enforcement seem to be working. The general stay of enforcement for Testing and Certification gave the commission time to write regulations. And as soon as these regulations are in place, the commission will probably have to issue fewer stays of enforcement.
As I have found out -- in doing my research, and talking to members of this committee, and to others who are involved with enforcing the law, that what is needed is the clear guidance on all of these sections of the CPSSIA (sic), and also regulations. And once those are in place I think you will see fewer stays of enforcement.
SEN. HUTCHISON: Thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. ROCKEFELLER: Thank you.
SEN. LAUTENBERG: Thanks, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Ms. Tenenbaum, for your willingness to take on this assignment. We, in our professional life here, have a chance to meet candidates for office that are recommended. And it's so nice, very frankly, when we have someone who is here presenting themselves to a committee who have the kind of background that you have, which is, I think, perfectly suited to taking the responsibility that you're about to take.
And I noticed that your focus is on the quality of life for children. And that's a really -- a principal focus for the Consumer Product Safety Commission. And one of the things that we've seen happening now is that there is a focus on toy guns. News reports have shown the popularity among children with toy guns that look like real AK-47s or other assault rifles.
As a matter of fact, in some instances, young people have been killed by police officers who believed, because these guns looked so realistic, that they're holding a weapon. And the consequence is terrible. And we see lots of injuries -- 2007, we had something like 11,000 injuries from toy guns, whether it's in the production of these things or whether it's the way the parts are put together.
But, last year -- you were discussing morale a moment ago with the chairman, I sent a letter to the CPSC asking it to investigate this issue, but I never received a response. Now, I'm hoping that, with your confirmation, that you'll work with me to review the safety of these guns.
Is that a problem for you in any way?
MS. TENENBAUM: No, sir --
SEN. LAUTENBERG: Not the working with me, I mean -- (laughter) --
MS. TENENBAUM: Thank you, Senator.
I will work with all the members of this -- the Congress. When I was state superintendent of education, if a member of the legislature wrote me I answered that letter. In fact, those letters were all -- I read them personally. We sat down, and if we needed to call the House or Senate member, we did, to find out -- (inaudible) --
SEN. LAUTENBERG: Well, you're -- you're reassurance --
MS. TENENBAUM: -- and I will work with you.
SEN. LAUTENBERG: -- your assurance is noted.
Last year I met with a New Jersey family whose daughter was severely injured due to a crib that collapsed. Oddly enough, my wife's daughter -- my stepdaughter had a baby, and she's just turning a year old, and I was with her this weekend. And she was chewing the paint off the crib. And even though these things are lead-free, I don't think it's very healthy for children to have paint chips in their system.
Now, under your leadership, will the CPSC require cribs to be tested to prove that they are durable and that will not collapse under pressure?
MS. TENENBAUM: Well, thank you, Mr. -- thank you, Senator.
If I'm confirmed, I will see that the requirement under the new law -- the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, to take voluntary crib standards and make them mandatory, if carried out. That's what this law requires for durable nursery equipment and products.
Those products were under a voluntary standard, and the law requires the commission -- this year, to issue rules to make them mandatory. And, therefore, we would have enforcement over the paint chips, if they came off in a baby's mouth.
SEN. LAUTENBERG: And despite the high number of recalls on children's products, consumers rarely return recalled products. As a matter of fact, it's only -- it's estimated that only 5 percent of the time do they do so. I hope that you'll increase outreach with the -- with a full complement of staff, to make consumers aware of the recalls of dangerous products.
And that certainly is a quality of-life-issue. And I'm sure that we can do "pretend" here -- we kind of pretend, for the moment, that you are chairman, and that you will look to see that, when there is a recall, that a reason is produced for doing so; and that we'll, that you'll do your best to alert the public of the importance of accepting your recall and returning the products.
MS. TENENBAUM: Thank you.
I will, if I'm confirmed, make public information and education a top priority. I also will work with the state's attorneys general, the attorneys general, the departments of Health and Environmental Control, the state consumer affairs offices to enlist their support with recalls.
But, one of the things the agency is charged to do is to educate the public on recalls. I've understood that the agency has recalled certain items and then later on there deaths attributable to those items. And that would worry me tremendously if that -- (audio interrupts) -- on my watch. And public information will be a top priority.
SEN. LAUTENBERG: Thanks.
Thanks, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Ms. Tenenbaum.
SEN. PRYOR: Thank you.
SEN. JIM DEMINT (R-SC): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. You've really covered a lot of my concerns with the current law, and words like "common sense" encourage me. I know the agency has done some things to delay implementation that seems perhaps not beneficial.
And as you and I have talked a fair amount about this law and whether or not we need legislation, and we'll just wait to hear from you on that. But, just one comment -- that I guess goes under the umbrella of "common sense," is the goal is more safety, not more regulation. And the problem we often have is we develop a comprehensive regulatory scheme, that it tends to favor large companies who have contingents of lawyers and people who can deal with them.
And in this country there are a lot of small manufacturers of a lot of products -- a lot of small toy manufacturers, handmade toys -- and some of the law has been interpreted in a way that would make it very difficult for these companies to do the type of testing that would be necessary to comply in any way that they could afford to do it.
And I would just ask you as you look at this is the whole point of this is not to run small companies out of business. But if we have such a heavy regulatory scheme it may be very difficult for them to afford the tests that are required to comply, and there are often other ways to do that such as make sure the components are tested, not necessarily the final product. But I would just appeal to you to do everything you can to make sure that we make our products safer but also keep America a good place to make products.
MS. TENENBAUM: Thank you, Senator. I'm very sensitive to the concerns of small businesses. My husband worked with his family's steel company for many years and that was a small business, and I understand that there is a great deal of worry among the toy manufacturers and other smaller businesses. I can't, because this is a quasi-judicial administrative body -- the CPSC -- say how I would vote. I have to refrain from doing that. But I will approach the interpretation of this law in a common sense way. The component testing is an issue that will get full attention (if it ?) but I cannot tip my hand on it --
SEN. DEMINT: Sure.
MS. TENENBAUM: -- without talking to my fellow commissioners and the staff at the CPSC. But that is an issue that the handheld toy and the small manufacturers have brought up -- that if the components are tested and we know they contain no lead can we go forward and not have a test on the finished product -- and that will receive my full attention and consideration if confirmed by this Senate.
SEN. DEMINT: That's all I can ask. Thank you. I yield back, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. PRYOR: Thank you. Senator Boxer?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-CA): Thank you and welcome and congratulations in this great nomination and, you know, one of the former, I think, most memorable chairmen of this committee, Fritz Hollings, is a great fan of yours. You know that.
MS. TENENBAUM: Thank you -- (inaudible).
SEN. BOXER: And I figure that anyone who would earn the admiration or respect of Senator Fritz Hollings and Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Jim DeMint is a person of great ability -- (laughter) -- and the ability to bring people together and to win their respect really -- it means so much in the role that you're going to play. And I only have one question. I'm going to preface it by a -- some remarks which will show where my bias is, and my bias is in protecting children and it always has been and I know you come from that place as well.
But I just want to make sure you know that it was in the 80s when I came to Congress that all of our regulations were based on protecting a 155-pound man, and that was how -- that -- everything that was done including all of the tests that went through the NIH there were no women in the tests, there were no children in the tests. And we worked together, all of us across party lines, to change that and I think the beauty of our work is very simple.
When you protect the children you protect everyone. If you go -- if you protect a 155-pound man -- a healthy man -- it's going to be good for all those guys who are in that category. But the vulnerable folks -- the children, the pregnant women, those with disabilities and so on -- are not protected. So it's such a win-win to protect the children and I think that was our goal when we wrote this law that you are going to find yourself in the middle of -- the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. So I guess that my one question is can you assure me that in your work that you will put the children first?
MS. TENENBAUM: Senator, thank you. I appreciate that question and yes, I will put the children first. I often gave a speech as state superintendent of education and I quoted the Hodi (ph) Indians who, before they made any decisions, would ask one thing -- is it good for the children. And I will ask before we make any rulemaking is this good for the children of the United States. Thank you.
SEN. BOXER: Well, thank you, and I think following that we can't go wrong. We'll all be protected and yet you're going to do it in a way that allows responsible companies to make good products and sell those products, and I'm just so excited about your nomination and extremely pleased at the bipartisan support you've received thus far. I hope, Mr. Chairman, we can move this very quickly. Thank you.
MS. TENENBAUM: Thank you.
SEN. PRYOR: Thank you. Senator Warner?
SEN. WARNER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Let me -- I know this is kind of a chorus we're hearing from both sides but I want to add my strong support of Inez. I've had the opportunity to work with her in politics. I've had the opportunity to work with her when she did such a great job in education in South Carolina. She was a great partner, we found, in Virginia on a series of education initiatives and I think you are absolutely the right person at the right time for an agency that has truly been troubled.
And while I know you introduced your husband, there -- looking around this room there are a series of other distinguished South Carolinians who are here to show support for you. (Inaudible) -- it's tough to get them all in the same room in the same -- with the same common cause. I hope you're not paying all of them because some of them are, you know, pretty expensive high-priced folks here in town now.
But -- (inaudible) -- let me just put a marker out. I know -- I think when the chairman was initially talking as we came in he had raised an issue that he's been -- he's had -- played a leadership role , and Senator Landrieu and Senator Martinez and Senator Nelson from Louisiana and Florida respectively, and that's this Chinese drywall issue. I know the -- your agency or your new agency is working on this issue.
I can tell you that the stories that we had with some of the folks who've been victimized by this, you know, almost Kafkaesque tragedy was pretty remarkable when we had them in -- when we had them in recently and, you know, the folks from your agency were saying they were starting the testing. I want to make sure Virginia continues to be because we've been hit down in Hampton Roads on this issue. But it was amazing. They were saying, we're doing the testing but we still don't have enough money or resources to do it in a timely manner, and in effect these people who are living in these virtually worthless homes at this point were basically told, you know, we think it's tough -- we understand it's challenging -- but you've got to continue to live in these places where you could be creating a health hazard for yourself and your children.
And I think the thing that was most remarkable, afterwards a series of families came out and talked to me about the fact that some of the inspectors had stopped going in and inspecting in person and instead were simply doing the -- soliciting the information over the phone because the inspectors were finding just coming in and spending an hour or two in the home they were starting to get some of the ill health effects in terms of finding shortness of breath and finding kind of -- breaking out in other bad health effects, and it was just amazing to me that our federal government was then saying, we don't even want to send our inspectors in to do this -- we want to do it over the phone, but by the way if you have the misfortune having done nothing wrong on your own part to be living in one of these health hazards we have no recourse for you.
So from my colleagues you're hearing other issues of great concern but this Chinese drywall problem is an enormous, enormous challenge. I hope you will continue to -- (inaudible) -- to make sure that they're -- we can work with you to find relief for these families, and if there is legislative solutions that need to be taken -- I know the chairman has moved aggressively on this issue -- I just want to add my voice. It will be there to do all we can to make sure this issue is brought to a full and speedy resolution. So I know you're not even into the job. I'm sure you've been briefed on this a little bit. But if you've got any comments about the Chinese drywall issue I'd love to hear them.
MS. TENENBAUM: Thank you, Senator. If I'm confirmed, I will work with you to get a resolution to the Chinese drywall. I have met with Senator Bill Nelson. I understand how concerned he is. He has told me about -- anecdotally about the respiratory problems people in Florida have faced, the wiring in the home corroding, even fear that the gas lines in the walls of this Chinese drywall have -- may be corroding.
Also, I've reviewed the letter that acting chairman Nancy Nord wrote to Senator Nelson laying out a five-track strategy from the commission, and I'm also aware that two senators -- four senators have asked the commission to set aside $2 million of the new appropriation just to address the Chinese drywall problem. I want to commend the commission for creating the website so people can write in and also for the work that they've done to -- with the EPA, the Centers for Disease Control, to test the Chinese drywall.
What I'm hearing too is that they haven't concluded what the problem is in terms of the -- it's inconclusive in terms of the environmental test. So we need to work collaboratively on this, and if confirmed, I would like to work with you to draw a resolution to find out what is causing the respiratory and what are the toxic elements in the gypsum of the Chinese products. I understand that the counterpart agency in China -- the counterpart to the Consumer Product Safety Commission -- is working with the commission to resolve this and that Chinese leaders are very aware of it to -- in trying to address it. But it is a very real problem causing people great hardship physically as well as damage to their property, rendering their homes worthless, and I will assure you that if I'm confirmed it will be a top priority to me.
SEN. WARNER: The only thing I would ask, Inez, is that a lot of this is taking place in Louisiana and Florida. They have different climate issues in terms of humidity than the folks -- we've got in Virginia, and elsewhere I think we're up to 36 states now that have experienced this problem. And it's remarkable to me that the testing and finding the causes taking this long when it's evident from the families, and then again, even from Consumer Product Safety Council (sic) staff that you start to have -- feel the ill effects literally just being exposed for a few hours.
So I would hope that money would be well spent to expedite this process and as you go do -- as you do the additional testing -- and I just speak from the Virginia standpoint but I'm sure my other colleagues who've got other different weather conditions simply testing it in the Florida or Louisiana type humidity issues. We got humidity in Hampton Roads and Virginia Beach and Norfolk but probably not quite as much as they've got in certain areas in Florida. Make sure that you've got other states involved in those tests as well.
MS. TENENBAUM: Thank you, Senator. I have spoken to Senator Pryor about the same issue in Arkansas, which probably has a similar climate to Virginia, but it is widespread and I, like you, don't understand why the best scientists can't come to a conclusion on what is in this drywall. But I will, if confirmed, make sure it gets full attention and even if we have to use -- (inaudible) -- outsource testing to get to the root of it we need to find out what is in this drywall making people sick.
SEN. WARNER: Mr. Chairman, one thing I'd simply add, and I know my time is up, but -- and you heard from both of our colleagues from South Carolina -- the one thing that Inez is famous about is when she gets a hold of a bone she doesn't let it go until she figures out an answer, and I can't think of a better person on a host of these issues to take them on in this new important role than Inez Tenenbaum. So great to see you.
MS. TENENBAUM: Thank you. Thank you.
SEN. PRYOR: Thank you. Senator Isakson?
SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R-GA): Thank you, Chairman Pryor. I came for three reasons. Everybody's calling you Inez. I will too. First is that both you and your husband are Georgians and we're very proud of that. Secondly, you're a graduate of the University of Georgia and we're extra proud of that. But thirdly, I had the privilege of chairing the Georgia Board of Education in the late 1990s when you became superintendent of education in South Carolina and watched what you did in South Carolina, and I want to say that everything that Senator DeMint said was absolutely correct.
You did a marvelous job and demonstrated the kind of attitude somebody at the CPSC should have to deal with the difficult problems. I really don't have a question. I do have two -- I want to do two endorsements. First is what Senator Warner said. This is -- the Chinese drywall situation is one of any number of product problems coming out of China.
We obviously can't pass laws that regulate production in China but we have gateways, which are our ports, and we have a commerce department and we have a CPSC. And I think somewhere along the line if you get the chance a task force of representatives from the ports, Homeland Security, the Commerce Department, (and yours ?) yourself can possibly come up with some ideas of a threshold of entry that could give us some degree of protection or at least send the signal to the world that we are looking at the quality of the products that are coming in.
Secondly, I co-sponsored Senator DeMint's legislation dealing with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which I voted for and Chairman Pryor spent a lot of time on. But it did have a lot of unintended consequences. Just one, by way of example -- I have eight, soon to be nine, grandchildren. One of my daughters-in-law, the mother of three all under five, chairs the largest secondhand clothing sale and secondhand book swap in the history of mankind, I think, but it raises a ton of money for their church. They -- when that law passed within weeks they were called by their attorneys and told to cancel both those sales because of the potential effect and legal liability that was put on them as a secondhand seller of a product they neither manufactured nor took any responsibility for.
So that does need -- we need to look at the unintended consequence of that legislation. I know there's a stay right now in the implementation but I hope you'll apply the same due diligence you did in South Carolina education to that particular subject and try and get it to where the unintended consequences are not so onerous for people for whom it was never intended.
MS. TENENBAUM: Thank you, Senator. If I'm confirmed, I will work to resolve many of these issues that are coming back to you and other members of this committee. It is my understanding, and I've read the guidelines that the CPSC has (promulgated ?) on secondhand stores and have asked people in the secondhand stores how things are going, and many of them said well, we've read the guidelines and are now not selling durable nursery products because we -- unless we know that the product has not been recalled. The commission has a website but it requires us to be even more diligent in informing the public about products recalled so the secondhand thrift stores aren't always in a quandary about whether or not to sell something.
We can work closely with the state consumer products safety commissions, and if confirmed, I will work with them and the attorneys general to educate people about what is required to be recalled and what they can and cannot sell. A public education campaign is certainly needed once all these regulations are in place and as we go forward to implement it, and if I am confirmed I pledge to work with you to do that.
SEN. ISAKSON: Thank you very much. Best of luck to you.
MS. TENENBAUM: Thank you, and thank you for being here.
SEN. PRYOR: Thank you. Senator Klobuchar?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Thank you very much. Thank you, Ms. Tenenbaum, for being here and your family. I also have warm words. I remember being down there twice now to South Carolina and you were very gracious. I had quite an experience down there at Representative Clyburn's fish fry that I will never forget, and you were certainly a gracious host. Thank you very much.
You and I have talked already about the toy safety and the children's products bill that was so important to me. We had a four- year-old boy die from swallowing a lead charm. He didn't know it was lead. Mom didn't know it was lead. And when he died after the lead going into his bloodstream it was tested as 99 percent lead. It was from China. And that's why I felt so strongly about getting this bill done.
I was pleased we got it done and passed on a bipartisan basis. But as I look back on how some of these problems which I feel very deeply in my state -- we have the two biggest domestic manufacturers of ATVs and snowmobiles in Minnesota are Polaris and Arctic Cat -- and when I look back at it I think one, it would have been good to have had a more collegial relationship with the agency in terms of working together when these problems came on the scene and based on what I've heard about your (working ?). So I think that that would be a -- that that will happen.
Two, as the legislation was drafted I think it would have been helpful to work more proactively with the CPSC. And the third thing, which we've focused on a lot today, is the implementation. The handmade toy lines actually got its genesis in Minnesota, and you've already answered some questions on our working with them, and I just had one ATV point and just to let you know how important it is in our state. We just this weekend had 1,600 ATV riders decide to ride in a line to break the Guinness Book of World Records in Silver Bay, Minnesota to have the longest line of AT -- I know you're jealous, Senator Pryor. (Laughter.) They wouldn't be doing that in Arkansas.
But the question that they -- I specifically have right now because, of course, the stay was much appreciated -- we didn't believe -- I don't think any of the senators thought that the law was going to be applied this way -- and that, again, you're going to be on a judicial body -- a quasi-judicial that will be deciding this -- but what's happened right now is that as of July 12th the ATV, snowmobile, motorcycle manufacturers have to submit to the CPSC a report that lists each component part that is made of metal and is accessible to children, and there may be hundreds of these parts.
And the problem for them is they're trying to figure out what's accessible because the CPSC is supposed to issue a final rule on accessibility and what's accessible on August 14th.
So there's this lag where they're supposed to give all their parts, but they don't know what's accessible until August 14th. And so what they're trying to get is some kind of an extension so that they can find out what the CPSC defines as accessible before they go through these hundreds of parts that they list.
And I just wondered if you have any thoughts on that in general. You may not want to answer it specifically.
MS. TENENBAUM: Thank you, Senator. And I wanted to add that I read the transcript when the Senate was -- of the days the Senate debated this law and know how much this law -- these situations have affected you and your state personally. Danny Keysar, the child that swallowed the charm off the Reebok shoe -- I mean, all of these, when I read the transcript, made the law to me be very real, because it -- you're right, there's so many people who have -- who have died and had been injured seriously because we haven't been more vigilant about children's products.
Under the CPSIA, you granted three exemptions from the lead components. One exemption is the inaccessible parts; two are certain electronic devices; and, three, the commission can exempt a children's toy if through normal and foreseeable use or abuse you can document that any lead is not absorbed into the body. And so those are the three areas where a product can be exempt.
Now, on the -- the stay of enforcement has been issued on the ATVs so that the industry can work to see if less lead is needed without structural -- interfering with structural integrity. That, I -- what you just brought up, though, is what -- one of the largest issues facing the chairman and -- if I'm confirmed -- or any -- and all the commissioners, and that is how soon we can get clear guidance on all these questions.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Right.
MS. TENENBAUM: And this is not unknown to me. When I was elected state superintendent of education, I came into an agency that had been cut, did not have the resources to implement a new law that the General Assembly had just passed, the Education Accountability Act. And there was confusion in the schools.
So what we had to do was take that law apart, figure out what we needed to do. Everyone went full -- you know, just worked overtime; got the policies and procedures in place. And we worked as hard as we could to implement it. And once I found that it was implemented, then the uncertainty died down. Industry accepted it and we could go on about our way.
This is the same situation I'm hearing about now.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Okay.
MS. TENENBAUM: As soon as we can issue guidance and regulation to help industry interpret this law, the better the industry will be. And they will comply. I have no --
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: We appreciate that. And just so you know, the ATV industry strongly supported this law because it had some good safety standards that would apply to foreign manufacturers that had already applied to domestic. And that's the irony of this. They supported this. And it was interpreted in a way that I don't think any senator or anyone expected.
And just one last thing if I could, Mr. Chairman. The Virginia Graeme Pool Act is something that I also worked hard on after we had a tragedy in Minnesota with Abigail Taylor. And there, with Senator Pryor and others, we were able to get that done a few months after this tragedy happened. And it's started to be implementing -- implemented all over the country. We've worked well with the CPSC. Commissioner Nord and I just did an event together on this.
And I just wanted to just say to you we know that CPSC can enforce it on every little pool all over the country, every public pool, but we also know that the education efforts will be very important here. So if you could take a look at that -- because we've found in our state we have had no incidents since this happened, because, of course, it hit people's hearts so much. So the pool operators are all going out and making sure things are in better shape. And I think if we can emulate that nationally, we'll be in much better shape.
MS. TENENBAUM: Thank you, Senator. I checked in South Carolina about implementation of the pool standards and found that last spring the Department of Health and Environmental Control, state department, had written all of the public pool owners to inform them about the regulation. And it's not that anyone was pushing back and saying, we can't comply --
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Right.
MS. TENENBAUM: -- right now, the supply for the drain covers doesn't meet the demand. So it's really parts and supply that is the issue; it's not the content of the law, from what I understand.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: All right. Thank you very much.
MS. TENENBAUM: Thank you.
SEN. PRYOR: Thank you.
SEN. DAVID VITTER (R-LA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Ms. Tenenbaum, for your willingness to serve. Thank you very much.
I wanted to focus on the Chinese drywall issue also. It has an enormous negative impact in Louisiana. By our estimates, there are up to 7,000 Louisiana homes affected. And all of those situations are as Senator Warner described. There are serious health symptoms, and yet people don't know exactly what the health bottom line is, that there's major damage to the home, corrosion of piping and wiring, which brings up fundamental safety issues with gas lines and the like.
In Louisiana, it's sort of triply tragic because, by definition, these are folks who were flooded by one of our hurricanes, Katrina or Rita or Gustav or Ike. That's why they're ripping out old drywall. That's why they're putting in this new stuff. So by definition, virtually every one of those folks were hard hit by a hurricane or just recovering or -- that finally put their house back together, and then they discover this and they have to start all over and their house is a loss, sometimes a complete loss, yet again. So it's really doubly tragic for folks in that situation.
I'm certainly continuing to work with Senator Nelson, Senator Landrieu and many others on legislation and on funding, which has the CPSC studying this issue and has it on a more accelerated time table to study three things in particular: number one, the relationship between the drywall and health symptoms -- so what's the bottom line on health, number one; number two, the relationship between the drywall and electrical and fire safety issues; and number three, the tracing of the origin and distribution of the drywall.
So I know that's going on, but the big issue is timing. Even with these funding assurances, even with this study ongoing, the word is it's taking months and months. What can you tell us about the current plan at CPSC with regard to the timing of this study?
MS. TENENBAUM: Well, I understand this committee had a hearing two weeks ago on Chinese drywall.
SEN. VITTER: Right.
MS. TENENBAUM: And the -- that was the day that the EPA came forward and had -- gave you the results of its test. And I understand the test was inconclusive. They didn't have a lot to tell you. Is that correct, Senator?
SEN. VITTER: That's my understanding, yes.
MS. TENENBAUM: And I've reviewed what -- the letter that Commissioner Nancy Nord wrote to Senator Bill Nelson, is -- also the fact that Florida has launched its own investigation to use high performance liquid chromatography or HPLC to isolate the particles of the drywall that may be emitting the gases. I understand that the EPA has looked at in-home tests as well as chamber tests, and no conclusive report has given about what it is that's emitting the sulfur or contaminating the walls.
I have -- my access to information inside the agency is through the public domain; it's what I get off the website and what briefings I have been given in terms of a briefing book. But I would like to, if I'm confirmed, work with the -- meet with the scientists first before I tell you what the time frame is. It is my understanding, everyone's still grappling with the science and the testing of the drywall. But once this is -- we get some information, then we need -- then, if I'm confirmed, I will come back to you, work with you and we can do a public information campaign to let people know what the hazards are and what their recourses are against the companies that sold them the drywall.
SEN. VITTER: Well, my understanding is that even with everything that's been done and funding commitments for CPSC to focus on this immediately, it's going to be a matter of many, many months, which strikes me as really frustrating and inadequate. What will you try to do to accelerate that at CPSC?
MS. TENENBAUM: Well, if I'm confirmed, the first week we'll have a briefing. All the commissioners will be invited to have a briefing by the staff. The staff will lay out the time lines. I'll ask them to come up with time lines, if I'm confirmed, to say when are you going to conclude your test and when can we get back with the Senate Commerce Committee and also senators and House members from other states that are affected by the drywall and expedite this as soon as possible.
SEN. VITTER: Kind of --
MS. TENENBAUM: But have a full briefing and come up with a schedule of implementation, working with you and making sure you are fully informed.
SEN. VITTER: Great. I appreciate that and I look forward to following up with regard to that specific time table, because that -- right now it's on a very frustrating, multi-month time table.
Mr. Chairman, if I could just have a couple other questions, because --
SEN. PRYOR: Please go ahead.
SEN. VITTER: -- because this really is important.
This is also part of a broader issue, obviously, with China. And China is clearly the biggest problem worldwide with regard to many products. In Louisiana, another big concern is contaminated seafood. That's not your jurisdiction. I understand that. But my point is, it's clearly a pattern with regard to China.
What are your thoughts about focusing on this Chinese pattern to really get some significant new results across the board?
MS. TENENBAUM: If I'm confirmed, one of the first things I'll do is ask for a meeting with the leader of the Chinese counterpart to the CPSC, which is the administration for quality supervision, inspection and quarantine, to make clear the importance of China complying with this and standards for consumer product safety.
I also want to work with the chairman to see if a delegation from this committee would visit China or meet with my counterpart from China if he or she would visit the United States to talk about our concerns.
We -- the CPSC has a memorandum of agreement with China which needs to be reviewed, given the large number of imports coming from China. We also communicate through -- we'll -- the third party testing certification, under the law that was passed last year, will ensure that products coming from China are meeting the standards.
That third-party testing will be implemented this year, I understand, although laboratories -- the tracking labels are required, but the third-party testing, it is my understanding, will be implemented this year. Before you come into the port, you have to have that third-party testing that can be sent electronically to the ports. The CPSC can work with Customs to make sure that those -- that certificate is -- with the extra funds that give -- Congress has provided to the CPSC, the commission could increase the number of people at its ports to ensure that the third-party certificates are correct.
It will take monitoring and vigilance on the part of the commission to ensure that these third-party laboratories are doing their job correctly, and a system for routinely checking on those and going back to make -- to ensure that these third-party laboratories are not filing either false claims or just not doing their work adequately. But that whole system will ensure us for -- ensure Americans that the products coming from China are worthy -- don't contain lead or phthalates or other toxic, you know --
SEN. VITTER: Great.
Mr. Chairman, can I ask one last brief question? And Ms. Tenenbaum, you can give the answer for the record, because I don't want to hold everything up.
I strongly believe that one of the problems is that in the past there has not been enough common work and coordination among multiple involved agencies, like U.S. International Trade Commission, Customs, USTR and your soon-to-be agency, working together for a practical result. For instance, in this Chinese drywall situation, at the end of the day, if the only action is some sort of class action suit against some shell entity in China which is really some arm of the Chinese government that goes into litigation and takes years and years more, that's not a solution; that's not a good result. That's maybe making some lawyers busy and/or rich, but it's not helping the victims.
Really what has to happen is for this to be a priority of the U.S. government, including USTR, everybody who deals weekly with China, to get a practical resolution and have the victims reimbursed in whole in a quick way. And I just ask for the record your responses to that idea, and how would you work toward that sort of practical bottom-line result.
Thank you very much.
MS. TENENBAUM: Well, thank you, Senator. That is an excellent question. And I'm glad you brought that up.
The CPSC is opening an office in China, but the commission needs to coordinate and not duplicate its efforts or have -- or use resources if other agencies can -- if we can pool our resources and get to the same solution.
SEN. VITTER: Thanks.
MS. TENENBAUM: I look forward, if I'm confirmed, to meeting with all of the people who are heads of these agencies to work out ways where we can work together more closely.
SEN. PRYOR: Thank you.
SEN. MARIA CANTWELL (D-WA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And Ms. Tenenbaum, great to see you. Thank you for the meeting in my office last week. And we're glad that your nomination is before the committee today.
I was wondering if I could ask you about emerging products that are associated with hazards. In 2007, the commission established a pilot program for an early warning system on emerging products and associated hazard. And my understanding is that that system uses subject matter experts and electronic assessment tools to allow the commission staff to quickly identify these issues and propose corrective action. Do you know whether this pilot has been successful?
MS. TENENBAUM: I don't, Senator Cantwell. I thank you for the question, but I don't have information on that. If it's -- it seems like a commonsense approach to work with the industries ahead of time to advise them of the regulation and the requirements on consumer products before they develop these products and then put them in the stream of commerce.
SEN. CANTWELL: That's -- I guess that's what I was getting at, is whether in principle that approach helps the commission to be more proactive than completely reactive. And should the commission be proactive when it comes to emerging safety issues and consumer products?
MS. TENENBAUM: The commission should be proactive. The -- working with industry, so industry doesn't have inventory it can't sell, where we're -- where the commission's responding on the back end of recalls, the sooner we -- the commission can promulgate regulations and guidance and educate and work with industry, the less cost would be incurred by industry in developing products that it later has to recall.
SEN. CANTWELL: Several of the unforeseen issues the commission has had to address in implementing the Consumer Product Safety Commission Improvement Act involve smaller businesses. And do you think the commission is well-positioned for conducting outreach to smaller consumer product manufacturers? I know the commission leverages its staff by using standards committees and organizations like the Underwriters Lab and ANSI, but does the commission also leverage its relationship with Small Business Administration and other agencies within the Department of Commerce like NIST and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership?
MS. TENENBAUM: Senator, I don't know the specific answer to that, because I haven't asked that of the commission. But it -- the commission needs to have a partnership and also regular meetings with the leaders of these commissions so we don't duplicate resources and that we're all enforcing standards across the board the same.
SEN. CANTWELL: Okay, another issue. I know -- I understand interested parties can submit petitions to the commission that can ultimately lead to a rulemaking. And to the best of my knowledge, this is -- those petitions have lead to rulemaking. And do you have any sense or any thoughts on that, the amount of time that it takes or how the commission does that as it initiates its own rulemaking?
MS. TENENBAUM: Thank you, Senator. I don't have firsthand knowledge about that. But under my leadership, if I'm confirmed, I hope members of the general public, industry, consumers, interested -- (audio break) -- and take those comments very seriously.
SEN. CANTWELL: I know that there's so much that the commission faces in a heavy workload. Are there any current activities you might consider deemphasizing or delaying? And are there some of these things that are just going to get delayed anyway, because of the level of staffing?
MS. TENENBAUM: Well, the staff has been cut in half over the last 10 years. And because of the increased appropriation last year, we -- the commission will be able to hire 100 additional people. Under the new law -- the law envisions 500 -- 400 more staff positions for the commission because of the surge of imports and the importance of consumer safety and the number of incidences that have resulted in death of particularly children in the United States.
The -- one of the challenges will be implementing the CPSIA in a timely manner and in getting the rules final so that industry and consumer groups and everyone will know what is required of them and to do away with the uncertainty that's surrounding this act at this point.
At some point, when you -- when the commission is working on project, if the commission doesn't have enough staff, then the commission can rely on working with other agencies or outsourcing. The agency does not have to do everything by itself if another agency has the capacity to assist in this or if you could, through private parties, ask them to conduct the research or do a study for you. But there are numerous agencies in the federal government that, if the commission has a partnership with those agencies, it could expand the enforcement and help with the workload.
SEN. CANTWELL: Well, thank you, Ms. Tenenbaum. I appreciate your answers, and I appreciated our meeting and your past experience at the state level. I think you'll bring a great deal of experience and leadership to the commission. So thank you.
MS. TENENBAUM: Thank you, Senator.
SEN. PRYOR: Thank you.
SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D-MO): Thank you. I just wanted to stop by briefly and congratulate you.
MS. TENENBAUM: Thank you.
SEN. MCCASKILL: I think your nomination is such a wonderful development for this very, very important and neglected part of our government.
The tenacity you have shown in your career and your willingness to take on projects against the odds I think suits you very well for the challenge that you've accepted. And I hope that -- I'm sure many of your visits in front of this committee will not be as pleasant as the one today -- (laughter) -- but I want to make sure that we don't chase you off.
MS. TENENBAUM: (Laughs.) No.
SEN. MCCASKILL: So I am -- I don't want to spend a lot of time talking specifically about issues. I will say that it's very important -- and I know you discussed this in other questioning and I know that your answers have been exactly what I was looking for -- but I think the problem we've got with the legislation that we passed is the confusion and uncertainty. And you combine that with a failure to embrace the notion of common sense, and our phones ring off the hook.
And, I mean, when I've got women that I revere that are librarians crying on the phone to me, I know that something is amiss, because I don't think government should ever make librarians cry. (Laughter.) I just think that is a bad idea, generally speaking.
So I want to make sure that I convey to you how much I hope your common sense takes firm control of this situation and that we quickly move towards very clear guidance so that if there are any remaining issues that we need to go back and take a look at, that we can do so. And I think that -- and let me give you an opportunity to speak to that just briefly, if you would, Ms. Tenenbaum.
MS. TENENBAUM: Thank you, Senator. And I appreciate you being here and coming by and appreciate your question.
If I'm confirmed as the chairman of the commission, it is my goal to implement the rules and the regulations and issue guidance pursuant to the CPSIA as soon as possible. Your phones are ringing off the hook because the -- there are so many unanswered questions about how certain sections of the new law will be interpreted and what industry is supposed to do. Consumer advocacy groups are concerned. Everyone needs to know what the road map's going to look like.
I have found that in implementing legislation in South Carolina year after year that once comprehensive legislation of this nature is passed you have lots of pushback and people concerned because of unanswered questions. As soon as you can put in place the regulation, the guidance and train people and answer the unanswered questions, the sooner people let the phone calls die down and get about the business of implementing the act. And that is my goal.
SEN. MCCASKILL: Well, that's terrific. And I -- on behalf on the -- on behalf of the librarians and the great thrift store operators and the wonderful folks that hunt with their ATVs in Missouri, I thank you for that. And I look forward to a strong working relationship over the coming years. And I know you're going to be very good at this job. Congratulations.
MS. TENENBAUM: Thank you.
SEN. MCCASKILL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. PRYOR: Thank you, Senator McCaskill. Let me, if I may -- our vote is on. And let me just have a couple of follow-up questions if I can or follow-up observations.
One of the things Senator Lautenberg talked about was he'd written a letter to the CPSC and he never received a response. I don't know if this is true, but anecdotally I've heard -- and I hope it's not true -- that there was favoritism shown to Republican inquiries as opposed to Democratic inquiries. And I certainly hope that wasn't the case, but I would definitely hope that as long as you're chairman, you'll be very politically neutral when it comes to communicating with House, Senate, attorney generals, governors, whatever the case may be.
MS. TENENBAUM: Senator, I will. My track record as state superintendent of education was to treat all persons who wrote letters to the state department or requested me to visit schools as politically neutral. I will be in the executive branch, and I want to work with everyone in the Congress and throughout federal and state government as best I can.
SEN. PRYOR: Well, that's the way it should be.
Let me also mention -- just observation -- the Chinese drywall case is an illustration of how much easier it is to fix the problem before it comes into the United States. And now with that Chinese drywall, that is in houses; it's ruining houses; it's ruined their value. The cost to the end user, the homeowner, is much greater than the cost of drywall. And it would have just -- if we could have gone back a few years in time and if we had an inspector there, if we had an office there -- you mentioned that -- if we had someone there to say, no, that cannot come into the U.S., just think about how many millions and millions of dollars that would have saved people around the country.
Another thing I'll say before I close is I think when we talk about librarians and ATVs and other matters that we've talked about today -- thrift stores, et cetera -- I think that what's happened -- what you can see is, is when the agency runs properly, it can help resolve these issues before the industry gets to a chaos point. But I think in the last few months what you've seen is with some actions of the agency or individuals there or whatever the case may be, statements made by them, you saw almost a panic in a lot of sectors of our economy, with people not knowing what to do. And I think you've done a good job of addressing that today.
So I think that dose of common sense that people have talked about and that spirit of cooperation and working together to resolve this and to get to a resolution is good for everybody. I think that'll be a great breath of fresh air.
Now, one last thing before I close, and that is the chairman, who's Senator Rockefeller, and Senator Hutchison, the ranking member, have asked all senators to get their questions for the record in today by 6 p.m. That's good news for you, because that means what they are hoping is we'll be able to move this nomination quicker. Normally, we leave the record open for a couple of weeks, but they would like to get the questions in today, if possible. So I'm just telling that so all the staff will hear.
And Ms. Tenenbaum, we really, really appreciate your interest in public service and your willingness to take on this commission. And we've enjoyed our time together and your responses to the question. And thank you. And we look forward to working with you as you're the chairwoman of this Consumer Product Safety Commission.
With that, we'll adjourn the hearing. (Strikes gavel.)
MS. TENENBAUM: Thank you.