Sunday's off-lead story by Eric Lipton, "Safety Agency Faces Scrutiny Amid Changes - Smaller Staff Handles a Flood of Imports," was basically a plea for more funding for the Consumer Product Safety Commission. It came with an old-fashioned liberal-media bogeyman: Budget and staff cuts during the Reagan administration,"severe cutbacks"that continued during the Bush years. Yet the Clinton administration somehow escaped blame for continuing the trend.
A bias toward the federalbureaucracy was evident from the start of Lipton's story.
"Under the Bush administration, which promised to ease what it viewed as costly rules that placed unnecessary burdens on businesses, industry-friendly officials have been installed at agencies that oversee the nation's workplaces, food suppliers, environment and consumer goods.
"Top officials at the Consumer Product Safety Commission say they have enhanced protections for the American public in recent years. But they have also blocked enforcement actions, weakened industry oversight rules and promoted voluntary compliance over safety mandates, according to interviews with current and former senior agency officials and consumer groups and a review of commission documents."
"At a time when imports from China and other Asian countries surged, creating an ever greater oversight challenge, the Bush-appointed commissioners voiced few objections as the already tiny agency - now just 420 workers - was pared almost to the bone.
"At the nation's ports, the handful of agency inspectors are hard pressed to find dangerous cargo before it enters the country; instead, they rely on other federal agents, who mostly act as trademark enforcers, looking for counterfeit Nike sneakers or Duracell batteries.
"At the agency's cramped laboratory, a lone employee is charged with testing suspected defective toys from across the nation. At the nearby headquarters, safety initiatives have been stalled or dropped after dozens of jobs were eliminated in budget cutbacks."
"During the Reagan administration, the work force was slashed nearly in half. Under Mr. Bush, it has reached a low of about 420, a 12.5 percent cut since 2002."
The Clinton administration of course had eight years to focus on this apparentlyburning issuebut did nothing to reverse the trend (neither funding not staffing increased during the Clinton years), something Lipton failed to mention.
"Spurred by the recalls of flawed Chinese-made products, Democrats in Congress, consumer advocates and even industry groups are demanding that the commission be given more power and money to do its job.
"Congress has begun by adopting budgets that allow for modest funding increases for the agency next year. The Bush administration proposed more cuts, which would have forced the agency's staff to shrink still more."
The headlineto an accompanying graphic showing an increase in product-related deaths and injuries (at least reported ones) warned, "Cuts at a Consumer Protection Agency...May Have Affected Product Safety." The text of the graphic declared: "The Consumer Product Safety Commission suffered severe cutbacks in funding and staffing during the Reagan administration."
But the figures go back only to 1995, over a decade after Reagan's allegedly "severe cutbacks."