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Uncertain future for product safety commission

Two years ago Ronald Reagan rode into the White House on a ''mandate'' of less government. One of the first agencies up for congressional reauthorization at the time was the Consumer Product Safety Commission. In the words of one CPSC watcher, ''Reaganites wanted a pelt on the wall.'' The agency held onto its hide , but a few teeth were pulled: The budget was cut, staffing sliced by some 30 percent, and tighter restrictions were placed on the release of product information to the public so as to protect businesses under investigation.

With the CPSC reauthorization bill headed for a September vote in Congress, consumer groups would like the agency to get more money for enforcement. The bill is still in conference but consumer lobbyists expect the agency to get a slight budget increase and a three-year extension. However, two legislative-veto amendments to the House version of the bill threaten to turn the agency into ''little more than an advisory panel to Congress,'' says Janet Hathaway, staff attorney at Ralph Nader's Congress Watch.

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''I frankly feel that there will be some type of oversight from Congress, said Nancy Steorts, head of the CPSC, in an interview here after a speech before the National Electronic Manufacturers Association (one of 400 speeches over the last year). ''And, we can live with a workable veto. I think it would be very burdensome to have a veto that required every move we make to be signed off by the House, Senate, and the President. I do not think this would be in the interest of the consumer,'' said Mrs. Steorts.

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