Senate Panel Considers Nominee To Head Safety Commission

Elliot Kaye is President Obama's nominee to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission. He made a name for himself pushing safety changes to youth football.

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We have heard our share of ugly and bitter debates on Capitol Hill. Here's something different: a polite discussion in which there's a lot of agreement and a shared desire to raise awareness. All this unfolded at a Senate confirmation hearing for Elliot Kaye. He's president Obama's nominee to lead the Consumer Product Safety Commission. And he's getting praise for trying to raise awareness about concussions in sports. Kaye has been serving as the agency's executive director. During his Senate confirmation hearing yesterday, Kaye said brain safety would be a top priority if he's confirmed as chairman.

NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Concerns about head injuries in football have been a prime topic of discussion and concern surrounding the NFL, but young players are just as vulnerable. At the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Elliot Kaye says bringing together those involved with the issue has been and will continue to be a major priority. He spoke before the Senate Energy Science and Transportation Committee.

ELLIOT KAYE: My track record at the commission has been to reach out to a wide coalition of stakeholders to try and find safety solutions. I've done this with football helmet manufacturers and representatives from the NFL, down to youth football on trying to reduce the risk of brain injury.

NAYLOR: The CPSC has not issued any regulations but Kaye has worked to focus attention on the topic, encouraging schools and youth football leagues to use better and safer helmets, to teach safe tackling techniques and to recognize signs of concussions.

Matt Howsare, now an attorney in private practice, worked with Kaye at the agency.

MATT HOWSARE: One of the things about Elliot is he's a collaborator, and an innovative one at that. And he brought all of the parties together to kind of see and share his vision on a completely voluntary basis for the greater good and for youth safety.

NAYLOR: If confirmed, Kaye would succeed Inez Tenenbaum, who stepped down from the commission last winter.

The CPSC has a broad portfolio, it can ban products and set rules. But much of its work is aimed at education about safety risks and working with manufacturers on voluntary standards, for everything from ATVs to window shade cords. Senators yesterday urged Kaye to speed up work on new ATV standards to reduce injuries and deaths.

Democrat Claire McCaskill expressed concern that the agency has too much on its plate.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL: There still is just an overwhelming number of products out there that need to be investigated, an overwhelming amount of work that could be done. And I think maybe the most important job of the commission is to prioritize the resources.

NAYLOR: Kaye said he wants to tackle a few more issues, including pool safety and products that have led to deaths and injuries among seniors.

KAYE: Unlike children's products, which are manufactured specifically for children, there are general use products that when somebody may have purchased them a long time ago, and by the time they reach senior age, their interaction with that product becomes very, very different.

NAYLOR: Neither Kaye's nomination, nor that of Joseph Mohorovic - who would fill the other vacancy on the CPSC - drew any opposition from committee members. But its unclear how soon the Senate might act.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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