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McCaskill to head Senate consumer protection panel, expand reach of contracting subcommittee

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 13, 2013 - WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, whose wartime contracting subcommittee is expanding its reach, is also adding a new assignment to her Senate portfolio as chair of a separate Senate panel that oversees consumer protection and product safety issues.

McCaskill, D-Mo., will take up the gavel of the Senate Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance starting on Wednesday.

Among the federal agencies that McCaskill’s panel will oversee are the:

  • Federal Trade Commission, which is charged with prohibiting unfair and deceptive business acts and practices
  • Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is responsible for protecting the public from unsafe consumer products, including children’s toys and equipment.
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which oversees the safety of highways and vehicles.

“I’m thrilled to be in a position to do even more to protect consumers from unfair practices,” McCaskill said. “I’m looking forward to using this new position to look out for Missouri’s families and businesses in a sensible way.”
At the same time that she takes over the Commerce panel, McCaskill's contracting oversight panel -- which has focused mainly on government contracts, with emphasis on contracting abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan -- will be expanding its reach to more financial facets of the federal government.

The wider scope of that panel -- under the umbrella of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee -- will be reflected in its revised name: the Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight. It's a permanent panel, as opposed to the temporary contracting oversight subcommittee.

McCaskill, who plans to announce subcommittee hearings in the coming weeks, told reporters she was "really excited" about her revised panel's wider jurisdiction will allow an oversight role over spending at every federal agency and department, and will provide more staff and investigative resources.

“I’m putting every federal agency on notice—any employee or contractor who wastes taxpayer money, or acts inappropriately on the taxpayer dime, will have this committee to answer to,” said McCaskill in a statement Wednesday.

“I plan to carry the same determination from our wartime contracting fight to this expanded effort to root out waste and fraud, protect taxpayer dollars, and bring a new level of accountability and transparency to government.”

To be able to chair the Commerce panel, McCaskill had to give up her chairmanship of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support. However, she has remained on the full Armed Services committee.

McCaskill, a former Missouri State Auditor and Jackson County, Mo.,, prosecuting attorney, has had a seat on the Commerce Committee since joining the Senate in 2007.

McCaskill plans to focus the Commerce subcommittee to investigate entities that use deceptive and predatory practices to target consumers. Such deceptive practices seem to be more widespread as a result of the expanded use of the internet and mobile devices.

“American consumers deserve rules that protect them, that are fair to our businesses, and that meet the test of common sense,” McCaskill said, “whether it’s Chinese goods made from toxic materials in U.S. stores or questionable rules” government the use of electronic devices on passenger aircraft.

“We’ve seen some successes in the past few years,” McCaskill remarked, “like protecting our veterans from scams by for-profit colleges and big banks, and successfully cracking down on predatory lending practices by credit card companies.”

In addition to consumer protection and product safety, the Commerce subcommittee has jurisdiction over property and casualty insurance. It also oversees some issues related to amateur and professional sports.

UPDATE“We will have an opportunity to take a look at some of the ways that consumers are getting scammed," McCaskill told reporters on Wednesday. "And whether or not we have ‘police on the beat,’ so to speak, getting after people who are committing fraud against consumers across the country.” END UPDATE

Among the full Commerce Committee's GOP members is U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. The McCaskill-led subcommittee’s ranking Republican will be U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.