Consumer Road Show

William J. Baroody Jr. couldn’t have done better by the consumer movement that he so strenuously op­poses.

As the President’s as­sistant for public liaison, Baroody is the coordinator of a series of regional White House conferences this month on proposed federal departmental consumer representation plans in major cities around the country. Both the plans and the conferences have been vari­ously denounced as waste­ful, window dressing, elec­tioneering and bureaucratic by consumer groups, local officials and editorials.

At each conference — Chicago, Kansas City, Boston, Atlanta and other cities — aroused consumer orga­nizations turned out to expose this transparent attempt to counteract Ford’s determination to veto the long-needed con­sumer protection agency recently passed by Congress.

Nothing could have so quickly coalesced consumer sentiment against the Ford administration than this amalgam of jet-set road‑ showers from Washington and their local business supporters, like Sears in Chicago, who wined and dined them before the day’s unsuccessful attempt to brainwash the local popu­lace.

How did this backfire occur? About a year ago, a group of Ford’s advisers de­cided that the consumer bill must be opposed at all costs.

Too many big corpora­tions. GM, Ford, Procter & Gamble, Greyhound, J.C. Penney, Exxon — were against any legislation that would establish a consumer agency with the expertise and authority to challenge or take to court the federal agencies which buckled under so often to that same big business pressure.

These advisers real­ized, however, that consum­er protection at a time of rising food, fuel, utility and housing prices could not be ignored.

So first they tried to smear the proposed con­sumer agency as “another layer of bureaucracy” that would add to the federal budget. Then they devised a presidential directive on .April 17, 1975, to federal de­partments regarding a re­view of their “policies and procedures as they affect consumer representation in agency decision-making.”

On Nov. 26, a bulging Federal Register appeared with the proposed consumer representation plans for 17 departments. Filled with make-words and classic bu­reaucratic blahs, these proposals envisioned more paper shuffling, slick titles such as “consumer affairs coordinator” and assorted paraphernalia of this cos­metic consumer circus.

Questions such as what independent authority to take on the particular de­partment would be given to these consumer affairs of­fices, or whether such of­fices could take their departments to court, went ignored.

In the Department ‘of Housing and Urban Devel­opment, consumer com­plaints were to be answered promptly and used to evalu­ate program ‘purposes. Nothing was said about re­dressing the many legitimate complaints.

On the road this month, Baroody, his entourage Virginia Knauer, her entourage, and Cabinet secretaries and representa­tives of 17 departments were rushing from city to city.

At the conferences and workshops, President Ford’s name was invoked at every opportunity. Unmen­tioned was Ford’s refusal to speak to any consumer group while addressing SO industry groups in the past year.

But, excepting the emis­saries from business or re­gional federal employees, the White House’s strategy didn’t wash.

The Boston Globe editori­ally advised the public to “have no part of it.” The Wall Street Journal criti­cized the road trip as a per­version of Ford’s alleged interest in reducing bu­reaucracy.

Richard Borten, execu­tive director of the city of Boston’s Consumers’ Coun­cil, called the Ford confer­ences “an expensive hoax aimed at New England con­sumers.”

Consumer groups in Chicago and Boston pre­pared a “baloney and crumbs luncheon” to sym­bolize their rejection of the conferences’ purposes.

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