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Inez M. Tenenbaum
Practices law at Wyche, P.A. in Columbia and Greenville
Former Chairman, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
Former South Carolina Superintendent of Education
Inez Tenenbaum entered law school in her 30s. She cashed out her state retirement to pay for her first year of law school. That was a turning point in her life, and she credits that move for later success, including top positions at state and national levels. She was a two-term Superintendent of Education in South Carolina and served a four-year term as Chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. She oversaw implementation of major legislation to protect children nationwide -- the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Act. She said her law degree gave her the tools to be a more effective advocate and to have more confidence. “Once I understood the law and how it could protect children and families, it took me to different venues,” she added.
Her advice for young people: “… I’ll say, what really makes you happy, what do you love doing? And they’ll tell me what their interest is. I’ll say, then find a job that focuses on that interest. And then you’ll never work a day in your life.”
About the Recipient
Inez Tenenbaum practices law at Wyche, P.A. in both the Columbia and Greenville, South Carolina offices following her tenure as Chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. She practices in the area of consumer product safety and advises clients on matters involving the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), including consumer product testing and certification, internal compliance programs, risk assessment and management, regulatory oversight, product reporting and recalls, and corporate responsibility. Ms. Tenenbaum also provides consulting services on education policy for state and regional organizations whose missions are to provide a quality education for all children.
Chairman, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (2009 - 2013)
Ms. Tenenbaum was nominated Chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission by President Barack Obama on May 5, 2009, and was confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate on July 19, 2009. She began her term as Chairman on June 22, 2009, and served until November 30, 2013, the end of her term. Tenenbaum established a leadership philosophy aimed at making the agency more accessible and transparent; making education and advocacy a priority; and being firm, but fair in enforcing product safety laws.
During her tenure, she fulfilled a key promise to the Congress and consumers by working closely with agency staff and industry and consumer stakeholders to complete all the major safety rules required by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA), a law that reformed and empowered the CPSC.
Ms. Tenenbaum’s term has been recognized to as one of the most transformative in the history of the CPSC. Her leadership resulted in the creation of the first CPSC public database, www.saferproducts.gov, that provides consumers and manufacturers with unprecedented access to information about the safety of consumer product hazards.
During her tenure, the CPSC opened its first overseas office, located at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. In 2011, the CPSC opened the new National Product Testing and Evaluation Center, testing products for defects and establishing test methods to determine compliance with safety standards. Also, in 2011, the CPSC implemented a Risk Assessment Methodology (RAM) pilot project to analyze data available in Customs and Border Protection’s International Trade Data System (ITDS) to target potential defective and unsafe products from coming into the country.
South Carolina State Superintendent of Education (1999-2007)
Prior to becoming Chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Ms. Tenenbaum was elected as South Carolina’s State Superintendent of Education in 1999 and again in 2002. She focused her administration on six key initiatives to reform education in South Carolina: raising the academic bar and embracing accountability for student academic progress, improving teacher quality, providing early childhood education for all children, supporting strong and effective school leadership, promoting safe and healthy schools, and increasing parent and community involvement.
Ms. Tenenbaum led the effort and the South Carolina General Assembly approved $750 million in state bonds for K-12 school construction and renovation. Matched with local districts also leveraging local bonds, the total amount was $1.75 billion for school construction during her tenure. More than 140 new schools were built during her tenure, using a combination of state and local voter-approved bonds.
During her tenure as State Superintendent, student achievement in South Carolina improved at the fastest rate in the nation, with scores increasing on every state, national, and international tests administered. At the end of Ms. Tenenbaum's tenure, the prestigious journal Education Week ranked South Carolina number one in the country for the quality of its academic standards, assessment, and accountability system.
In 2001, the Center for Creative Leadership, a nonprofit leadership institution in Greensboro, North Carolina, named Inez Tenenbaum the recipient of its third annual Distinguished Alumni Award for “making leadership a fundamental requirement for school reform as part of South Carolina strategic plan for education.”
About Women Vision SC
Women Vision SC is a program that focuses on issues affecting women throughout the state and the nation and a new generation of young people pursuing public service for their communities and the state at large. The program is produced and hosted by former SCETV president Linda O’Bryon.