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How relevant are multi-member independent regulatory commissions in today’s regulatory environment? Would the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) function more effectively as an executive agency rather than as an independent regulatory body? CPSC Commissioner Nancy A. Nord posed these questions at a November 15th Regulatory Policy Program seminar.
CPCS regulates more than 15,000 consumer products worth billions of dollars to the American economy. According to Nord, many of its rules impose substantial costs on consumers and businesses, without necessarily making them safer. Nord discussed CPSC’s efforts to abide by Executive Order 13579, which encourages independent regulatory agencies to undertake retrospective analyses to identify ineffective rules that could be streamlined, fixed, or repealed. Nord expressed disappointment in the agency’s lack of adherence to the Executive Order and limited use of cost-benefit analyses generally. Pointing to two recent rules passed without cost-benefit analyses, Nord said, “They have been messes of rules…I am quite convinced that had we done the hard work up front before we promulgated the regulations that those rules would be better rules.”
At the heart of this problem, Nord argued, is the Commission’s structure as an independent regulatory body. Congress established CPSC in 1972. The President appoints Commissioners to staggered seven-year terms. Congress intended this structure to promote bipartisan decisions based on expert knowledge. In practice, however, “competing political forces” have stymied CPSC, according to Nord. With a single administrator, Nord posed, CPSC could achieve similar or better policy outcomes, but without the cost and time-delay of a five-member bipartisan board. Other benefits of a single administrator agency structure (e.g. EPA) include better ability to coordinate efforts with the administration and clear accountability of the administrator for agency actions.
Appointed by President George W. Bush, Nord has served as CSPC commissioner since 2005, and served as acting chairperson from July 2006 to May 2009. As of late October, Nord is the only Republican member the Commission, which currently has just three serving members.
This seminar is part of a ten-seminar series sponsored this fall by the Regulatory Policy Program (RPP) at the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government. The series explores new directions in regulation. RPP serves as a catalyst and clearinghouse for the study of regulation across Harvard University. The program's objectives are to cross-pollinate research, spark new lines of inquiry, and increase the connection between theory and practice.