Tenenbaum was something of an unknown when President Obama appointed her in 2009 to lead the Consumer Product Safety Commission, but she has taken to the role with gusto. Tenenbaum, who served as South Carolina’s state superintendent of education from 1999 to 2007, espouses a commitment to safeguarding the welfare of Americans—particularly children. She is proud that the commission has become “a proactive regulator” under her leadership, saying her aim is to educate industries on the regulations and thus avoid the creation of noncompliant products.
Asked to name a signature achievement, Tenenbaum rattles off a dizzying array of rules passed during her tenure. In addition to educating American and foreign companies, under her leadership the commission has implemented the opening of a Beijing office and launched a National Product Testing and Evaluation Center, an improvement over its previous facility. It has also begun an online database where consumers can learn about recalls and post their own experiences with various products.
Before her time as schools superintendent, Tenenbaum worked as research director for a state legislative committee that dealt with consumer issues, aiding in the passage of South Carolina’s first lead-safety law, and she also practiced public-interest law. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Georgia and a law degree from the University of South Carolina.
Tenenbaum, 62, has spent the past four years commuting weekly between Washington and South Carolina and will step down when her term expires in November. Asked why, Tenenbaum notes that a second term would last seven years (she served the remainder of former Chairman Hal Stratton’s term). In an interview, she noted, “My whole life has been devoted to children and helping people,” and said she aims to find “another venue where I can focus on my life’s mission.”