- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Cabinet-level advisory committee yesterday outlined a “strategic framework” to improve the safety of imported goods but declined to make specific proposals to deal with the growing problem for another two months.

The report was released by the Interagency Working Group on Import Safety, which President Bush set up in July to cope with a flood of concerns about the safety of food, toys and other imports, particularly from China.

Yesterday’s report included calls for improved information-sharing, promotion of technological innovation and development of “a culture of collaboration” among regulatory agencies and with foreign governments.

The report was immediately criticized by two senior House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats, including Chairman John D. Dingell of Michigan, who said the report offers “no significant guidance on how we can better protect American consumers.”

The report came out the same day the Walt Disney Co. announced it would hire independent companies to buy its toys off store shelves and test them at random for lead paint and other safety problems.

The entertainment giant also said it would also start requiring its licensees, including Mattel Inc., to submit test results to Disney before releasing products to retail stores.

The White House advisory committee did recommend a half-dozen actions related to interagency collaboration, information sharing and international cooperation.

But Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt conceded that the report did not make specific recommendations, telling reporters yesterday that the need for new resources and authority will be evaluated after a comment period is completed and an implementation plan is prepared.

“So what we have done to this point is to create a vision, a general strategy — which is a substantial change in our approach — laying out six building blocks and over the next 60 days we’ll report back with specific implementation plans on all six of those,” Mr. Leavitt told reporters.

The plan might require new funding, but he said it was too early to come up with a figure.

“You don’t deal with the issue of resources in the development of the strategic framework,” said Mr. Leavitt, who headed the panel that produced the report.

Mr. Dingell said it was “disappointing that, after two months of study, the Interagency Working Group has failed to offer concrete recommendations on safeguarding imports and, instead, has asked us to wait two more months for its proposals.”

By the time the administration’s action plan is ready, it will be the holiday season, he noted.

“I hope the working group will move as quickly as possible to ensure that American consumers can feel confident purchasing toys for their children and serving food to their families,” Mr. Dingell said.

Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce oversight and investigations subcommittee, said he was concerned the report was “long on platitudes and short on specifics.”

“I am surprised that it took an interagency working group to develop recommendations such as ‘Cooperate with Foreign Governments’ and ‘Advance a Common Vision.’ ”

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