In the spirit of the holidays, Congress has given the CPSC several gifts which we are now unwrapping. But as is sometimes true at holiday time, the Congress did not get the gift request quite right. On the positive side, Congress is promising the agency additional funds. Like all federal agencies, we want and will gratefully accept every new dollar we can get for consumer safety.
However, this past weekend, we also were given two additional “gifts.” The first is a pending amendment to the CPSIA which contains a narrow exception from the lead provisions apparently designed to aid the ATV, bicycle and book industries. While the amendment is less than clear legislative drafting, with its passage, Congress does acknowledge, for the first time, what many of us at the agency have been saying for many months–the inflexible nature of the CPSIA has limited the ability of the CPSC to minimize the unintended consequences of the law–hurting product sellers and limiting consumer choice while not advancing safety. This amendment was drafted in a closed and partisan process, without input from relevant stakeholders and its shortcomings reflect this flawed process. However, in the spirit of the season, let us hope that this is a first step in correcting the problems with the CPSIA.
The second “gift” is a direction from the Congress to consider the impact of the testing and certification provisions of the law on small businesses, to consider exemptions from the statute where there is no real risk of lead exposure to children and to present to Congress by mid-January, 2010, recommendations for ways the statute could be improved. I hope that all Commissioners will be part of this process. At a recent Commission meeting, my colleague, Commissioner Northup, and I raised the possibility of writing to Congress about the need to give the CPSC more flexibility. While the Commission failed to reach out to Congress, Congress has reached out to the Commission, thus giving us the opportunity to work together to craft something that improves safety for the American consumer, and that would be a gift that keeps on giving.