Around the time that much of the United States was beginning to shut down in response to COVID-19, President Trump nominated Dr. Nancy B. Beck for Commissioner and Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). A review of Dr. Beck’s education and background shows that the vast majority of her career – over 15 years – has been spent in public service. Yet Dr. Beck’s nomination has been met with criticism of her roughly five years as a Director at the American Chemistry Council (ACC). For instance, the Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee issued a press release which highlighted Dr. Beck’s time at the ACC and claimed that Dr. Beck was “doing the bidding of the chemical industry at the expense of the health and safety of the American public.” Likewise, the Washington Post and New York Times headlined articles about Dr. Beck with a description of her as a “chemical industry executive.” While it may be expected that Dr. Beck’s detractors would focus on her time at the ACC, media characterizations of her as a “chemical industry executive” do not accurately describe the whole of her professional efforts.
Dr. Beck received a B.S. in microbiology and economics from Cornell University. She then went on to receive a M.S. in Environmental Health/Toxicology and Ph.D. in Environmental Health from the University of Washington. Dr. Beck’s LinkedIn Page notes that her Ph.D. was accompanied by “Activities and Societies: Molecular Toxicology.” This focus is underscored by her studies currently available on the University of Washington’s website which both generally addressed issues related to the induction and processing of various exposures. The abstracts for these studies can be found here:
- “Phenobarbital Mediated Induction of the Cytochrome p450 2B genes: Mechanistic Investigations”
- “The Effects of Ozone on Intercellular Adhesion Molecule 1 Expression in Human Nasal Epithelial Cells”
The White House’s announcement of Dr. Beck’s nomination notes that “Dr. Beck has spent the majority of her career in the Federal Government. She has served as a career employee under Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama. Before joining the Federal Government, Dr. Beck worked for the Washington State Department of Health preparing health and exposure assessments for communities concerned about environmental exposures. Dr. Beck also has experience working in regulatory science policy for the American Chemistry Council.”
A closer look at Dr. Beck’s career certainly substantiates that description.
Dr. Beck began her professional career in the private sector. Upon graduation from Cornell University, Dr. Beck accepted a position with Estee Lauder where, according to a University of Washington profile, she “worked with chemists to develop preservative systems for products. She also helped develop in vitro tests to replace the Draize rabbit test, a standard toxicity test used for cosmetics, and credits the experience as her “first foray into toxicology.”
After completing her masters and doctoral programs, Dr. Beck went to work for the Washington State Department of Health where, according to the same profile, “she evaluated facilities suspected of health concerns.”
Following her time with the State of Washington, Dr. Beck became an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science & Technology Policy Fellow at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Dr. Beck credited this program with allowing her “to see how science is being used in developing federal policy.”
That experience would certainly have been helpful in her next position with the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) which “is a statutory part of the Office of Management and Budget within the Executive Office of the President.” Dr. Beck’s LinkedIn bio notes that she held this position for almost ten years from August of 2002 until January of 2012. During this time, she served as a “Toxicologist/Risk Assessor/Policy Analyst.” Her University of Washington profile highlights the nature of her work during this time stating that Dr. Beck “analyzed the science behind major environmental, health and safety regulations and considered the impacts they may have had on other agencies and the public’s health. She also oversaw government-wide initiatives related to Information Quality and best practices for Risk Analysis. She was the only toxicologist in an office of 50 full-time career professionals with graduate training in economics, policy analysis, statistics, public health, epidemiology, engineering and other technical fields.”
It wasn’t until January of 2012 that Dr. Beck began her work with the ACC. While at the ACC, she was the Senior Director, Regulatory Science Policy, Division of Regulatory & Technical Affairs; a position she held until April of 2017. Some of Dr. Beck’s activities during this time can be found on the ACC website and, while certainly not exhaustive, include the following:
- Comments to the EPA on various chemical risk assessments
- Comments on changes to the EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System
- Discussion of possible overlap in U.S. Government programs “…when it comes to evaluating the hazards associated with environmental contaminants”
- Senate Testimony discussing “examples of where scientific information in the rulemaking process has fallen short” and “proposals that agencies could employ to improve transparency and accountability.”
In May of 2017, Dr. Beck returned to the EPA as Deputy Assistant Administrator, Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP). In December 2018, Dr. Beck assumed her current role as Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator. The OCSPP’s stated mission is to use “sound science” to protect people “and the environment from potential risks from pesticides and toxic chemicals. Through innovative partnerships and collaboration, we also work to prevent pollution before it begins. This reduces waste, saves energy and natural resources, and leaves our homes, schools and workplaces cleaner and safer.” The OCSPP also implements a number of significant statutes including:
- Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)
- Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA)
- Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)
- Pollution Prevention Act
Summary and Analysis
Dr. Beck’s education and background reflects a long history of rigorous scientific study in environmental health issues, public service and policy making and any caricature of Dr. Beck as only a “chemical industry executive” does not accurately describe her career. However, given Dr. Beck’s appointment would tilt the balance of power at CPSC to Republican-nominated Commissioners; and that as Chair, she would have significant authority to drive CPSC’s agenda; she is a target for opponents who want to brand her in the most negative manner. The decision on how to balance these experiences and to judge Dr. Beck’s suitability at the CPSC now sits with the U.S. Senate.