WASHINGTON — The Senate on Friday unanimously confirmed Inez Tenenbaum as the chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission in an unusually swift action on a top nominee of President Barack Obama.
Tenenbaum, in her first public comments since Obama chose her last month, said her first major task will be overseeing implementation of a sweeping consumer safety law passed by Congress last year.
"I'm looking forward to being the consumer advocate for the people and for the children of the United States," she said in an interview shortly after the Senate voice vote.
Sen. Jim DeMint, who defeated Tenenbaum, a Democrat, in their 2004 Senate election, congratulated her on her confirmation.
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"I'm confident she has the determination and skills to lead this important commission," DeMint said. "I look forward to working with her to ensure our nation continues to have the safest products in the world."
DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, had introduced Tenenbaum to other members of the Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday at her confirmation hearing.
Fellow South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham also applauded Tenenbaum.
"I know Inez and am confident she will hit the ground running," Graham said. "She will look out for American consumers and provide the agency with the leadership it needs."
Congressional and Obama administration sources said Tenenbaum could be sworn into office as early as next week to take the helm of a demoralized agency that saw its staff and budget cut under President George W. Bush.
Tenenbaum, 58, served as South Carolina's education superintendent from 1998 to 2006.
The Senate confirmed Tenenbaum in near-record time, approving her scarcely a week after getting her formal nomination papers.
Among 166 Obama administration nominees to date requiring Senate confirmation, only three others have been affirmed as quickly, congressional and Obama administration sources said.
"There are a great number of challenges facing the Consumer Product Safety Commission, but the good thing is that Congress voted last year to revitalize the agency in light of the surge of imports and the fact that we live in a global economy," Tenenbaum said.
Two-thirds of the products regulated by the commission now come from overseas, most of them from China.
China's government has drawn the ire of consumer advocates because of health and safety problems caused by contaminated toys and pet food, defective drywall and other products.
"One of the important challenges is to address the issue of Chinese drywall to determine what it is that's corroding electrical wiring within the walls and also causing considerable respiratory problems to people who live in homes that use the drywall," Tenenbaum said Friday.
The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 requires tracking labels for all children's toys and third-party certification of imported goods.