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Reuters - Lawmaker Targets Industry Travel By Regulators

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Reuters - Lawmaker Targets Industry Travel By Regulators

By Kevin Drawbaugh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Democratic senator on Wednesday introduced a bill to prohibit federal regulators from traveling at the expense of industries they oversee.

Criticizing trips taken by Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) officials, New Jersey's Robert Menendez offered the bill along with six Senate co-sponsors, including Illinois Democrat Barack Obama, a presidential primary candidate.

"The image of toy companies paying for federal regulators to travel around the globe while American children are at home playing with toxic toys is probably seared into the minds of millions of parents,"
Menendez said in a statement.

"We need to make sure that these product gatekeepers are looking out for one interest and one interest only: the well-being of the American people," he said.

Controversy has swirled around the CPSC and its leadership amid many recalls of millions of lead-contaminated toys and products made in China.

CPSC Acting Chairman Nancy Nord was questioned on Tuesday at a congressional hearing about trips she and her predecessor took that were paid for by the Toy Industry Association and other industry groups.

Nord said she would welcome more funding for her agency so it could pay for trips and was amenable to rule changes requiring the agency to pay for needed travel.

Nord, a former White House counsel and U.S. Chamber of Commerce executive, said agency heads accepted trips to conferences to search for unsafe products and did so only because the agency's limited budget prevented it from footing the bill.

Some lawmakers, including Menendez and U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, demanded that Nord to resign. She has refused.

A spokeswoman for the agency could not immediately be reached for comment.

"It's simply unacceptable that our kids were exposed to lead toys while the very people in charge of keeping products safe were accepting industry-funded trips," Obama said.

Legislation to give the CPSC more money and staff is moving through the Senate and the House.

The Bush administration on Tuesday proposed tougher inspection rules to keep dangerous food and other products out of the United States.

The Bush report suggested CPSC penalties for violators could be stiffer and importers could be made to comply with safety rules.

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