In an interview with 60 Minutes in November 2008, Barack Obama was asked what he was reading. He answered with a smile: briefing papers. No doubt a lot of them. And this was before his transition team gathered more papers on everything from national security to the National Endowment for the Arts. UNC professor Bob Adler cowrote one of these papers.

Adler, a UNC business school professor, joined Obama’s transition team in October 2008. After the election, Adler was one of two people asked to review the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which is in charge of making sure our stores don’t sell defective products such as toys with lead paint.

The CPSC is considered an independent agency, though it is part of the federal government. The president appoints the agency’s three commissioners and names the chairperson, and Congress funds it. Over the past several years, the commission has been widely criticized for its perceived lack of power to protect consumers. Adler’s job was to document how the agency functions and give advice about how it could be improved.

Adler was a lawyer for the commission from 1973 — when it was created — until 1984. Then he worked for the congressional committee in charge of CPSC oversight before joining UNC’s faculty. In October 2008 former CPSC executive director Pamela Gilbert, a longtime colleague of Adler’s, asked him to help review the hurting agency for Obama.

“I was totally surprised to be asked to serve,” Adler says, “but very excited about having some input on what the policy of the agency ought to be.”

He spent several days interviewing commission employees, members of Congress, industry people, and consumer groups. Over Thanksgiving and Christmas and in between classes, Adler read volumes of CPSC reports and other articles about the agency. Then he helped Gilbert write the briefing paper for Tom Perez, the director of Obama’s health and human services transition team.

When Endeavors interviewed Adler, he was unable to divulge any of his findings or advice because his work was for internal review only. But during the presidential campaign, Obama vowed to make several changes to the CPSC, including filling top posts with people who had not previously worked for companies the commission oversees. Obama also wants to double funding for the agency and hire more investigators in charge of keeping our stores free of defective stuff.

According to the CPSC website, the agency has about 420 employees. In 1980 it had 978. Since then its budget has been reduced while the rate of products entering the United States has skyrocketed. The agency now monitors fifteen thousand kinds of products. Yet until 2008 it had only one stationary machine that could scan products for lead, even though handheld scanners have been on the market for ten years. When toys with lead paint landed on our shelves last year, people started pointing fingers at the CPSC, its organization, and why it lacks the regulatory power to act quickly in emergencies.

In this economy, no one is sure if the CPSC will be restructured, but Adler cowrote the blueprints in case Obama wants to try.

Robert Adler is the Luther Hodges, Jr., Scholar in Ethics and Law at the Kenan-Flagler Business School.