November 6, 2014
I recently had the unique opportunity to speak with a remarkable woman, attorney, and leader, Nancy Nord. Nancy’s impressive background ranges from general counsel to the Council on Environmental Quality to serving as an attorney at the Federal Communications Commission and with the U.S. Congress to Director of Federal Government Relations for the Eastman Kodak Company. This was all before her eight year stint as commissioner on the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), serving as chairman from 2006 – 2009. Notably, Nancy Nord was in the extremely unique position to help found the ACC – Association of Corporate Counsel. Here Nancy speaks about her time with the CPSC.
Tell us about your role with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). How did your background as a GC help you?
NN: The CPSC is a five member independent regulatory agency that sets safety standards for consumer products and recalls products that pose unreasonable risks to consumers. The agency plays an important role in protecting the health and safety of American consumers. I served as a commissioner for eight and a half years and as acting chairman for three and a half of those years.
Being a general counsel and working closely with so many corporate general counsel while at ACC provided invaluable experience. Too often people in public policy jobs are subject matter experts but do not have experience with the entities they are regulating. I believe that kind of experience is absolutely necessary to doing the job. It allowed me to better understand the challenges of complying with regulations (and to recognize excuses when I heard them) and to speak plainly about the government’s expectations and requirements.
One of ACC early activities was to help members develop corporate compliance programs. That work resonated with me as a commissioner since I saw the results of those programs in action. Those companies, with senior management buy-in, that worked hard to anticipate problems, to train their staff and that took extra steps to aggressively oversee their supply chain were the one that had fewer problems or that were able to recognize problems at an earlier point in the process—before significant injuries occurred.
The environment at the CPSC, as at other regulatory agencies, has changed over the past several years to one that is much more punitive—with a focus on seeking higher penalties. The agency also is now routinely mandating that compliance programs be established as part of its settlement negotiations. Strangely, no company that I know of has offered an existing compliance program as a mitigation factor in negotiating a settlement but in the current environment perhaps that is not be an argument that will find traction.
Working collaboratively with the agency has become a more challenging process. Having a robust compliance program in place is an obvious first step for companies that make products under the jurisdiction of the CPSC. As the agency pushes its jurisdiction further into the global arena, it is an agency that all manufacturers will be hearing more from so corporate counsel should be ready to engage.
Visit Corporate Counsel Connect http://info.legalsolutions.thomsonreuters.com/signup/newsletters/corporate-counsel-connect/2014-oct/article4.aspx to view the rest of the interview with Nancy Nord.
Nancy Nord was Executive Director of ACC from its establishment in 1982 through 1990. She was a commissioner of the CPSC from 2005 through October 2013. Her blog on regulatory policy issues, Conversations with Consumers, is at nancynord.net nancynord.net.