In March, we wrote about President Trump’s nomination of Dr. Nancy Beck to serve as Commissioner and Chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Yesterday, Dr. Beck moved one step closer to assuming the chair of the agency as the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing to consider Dr. Beck’s nomination.
As expected, the hearing became contentious at times as committee Democrats criticized Dr. Beck’s experience and expressed opposition to the nomination. They questioned Dr. Beck extensively on her background, in particular her most recent service in EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention and at the White House’s National Economic Council (NEC). Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA), along with Tom Udall (D-NM), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Jon Tester (D-MT), pressed Dr. Beck on her role in important regulatory matters involving PFAS chemicals, TCE, methylene chloride, asbestos, and even COVID-19, and proceeded to criticize her for, in their view, disregarding science and siding with the chemical industry over public health and safety.
Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) asked Dr. Beck how, if confirmed, she would prevent unauthorized releases of confidential business information by CPSC in violation of Section 6(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act. Dr. Beck responded that she would ensure all staff and managers were appropriately trained in how to handle confidential business information.
When provided the opportunity, Dr. Beck expressed her priorities for the Commission if confirmed. She stated that she will ensure that:
- CPSC takes appropriate and timely action to protect the public from risks, consistent with statutory mandates;
- CPSC has effective communication and outreach tools — in particular, to address the changing ways consumers purchase products and receive important information; and
- CPSC has the full confidence of the American public. Dr. Beck emphasized that CPSC programs must be run as effectively as possible to provide the highest level of protection to consumers and families.
On this last point, Dr. Beck’s written testimony emphasized her support for hiring a Chief Technologist, as recommended by the Senate, to make certain that CPSC decisions are informed by the best available data and information. Interestingly, however, the CPSC has already posted a job announcement seeking a Chief Data Analytics Officer with the capabilities to query data, create reports, dashboards and data visualizations for reporting to the Commission on emerging hazards.
Dr. Beck stated multiple times during the hearing that she believes that public safety should be promoted through policy supported by “objective and transparent science.” She claimed not to have enough knowledge to answer specific questions on safety threats such as the threat of furniture tip-over and the death of children.
Dr. Beck’s confirmation is hardly a done deal. Senate Democrats are expected to block Dr. Beck’s nomination, which may necessitate roll call votes before the Commerce Committee and eventually the full Senate. In the coming weeks, all eyes will be on a small handful of Senate Republicans, some up for re-election, to see if they throw their support behind Dr. Beck. For example, at yesterday’s hearing, Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) questioned Dr. Beck about her involvement in the regulation of PFAS chemicals while at EPA and on detail at the NEC. Senator Capito’s questioning suggested some doubts on the nomination. Other Republican Senators to watch include Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Tom Tillis (R-NC).
3:30pm ET Update: Both Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) have since gone on the record voicing opposition to Dr. Beck’s nomination.
Cheri Falvey contributed to this article.