The federal agency tasked with protecting Americans from harmful products can't do its job — the Consumer Product Safety Commission (search) is one commissioner short.

Under federal law, the three-member panel can act with two commissioners for only six months, after which it loses its ability to impose penalties and issue regulations and mandatory product recalls, which are among its chief duties. The deadline passed last weekend.

"We need a quorum for the commission to act, and without that we can do less to protect consumers," said CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton (search).

President Bush nominated Nancy A. Nord (search) in late February to fill the vacancy left by the early departure of Commissioner Mary Sheila Gall (search). Nord is a former Eastman Kodak Co. lobbyist who once headed the Republican National Lawyers Association.

But Nord can't begin working until she is confirmed by the Senate. A hearing on her nomination is scheduled for next week. The agency has been criticized by some consumer groups as being too business-friendly.

Until her confirmation, the CPSC is mostly relegated to issuing voluntary recalls on products.

Rachel Weintraub, assistant general counsel for the Consumer Federation of America, faulted the Bush administration for waiting months to nominate Nord.

"Granted, they're very busy," Weintraub said. "But certainly protecting consumers from potentially dangerous products should be a high priority."

This is the third time in the agency's 32-year history that it has been unable to fill its mandate, spokesman Scott Wolfson said. The last time was 2002, when Stratton's confirmation was pending.

Among decisions anticipated after a new commissioner is confirmed are a petition to ban sales of adult-sized all-terrain vehicles when they are bought for children and a proposal to improve the fire safety of mattresses.

Besides Stratton, Clinton administration appointee Thomas Moore sits on the commission.