Congress has directed us to report back to them by January 15, 2010 on ways to minimize undue impact on small business with respect to testing and certification requirements; consider risk and exposure of children to lead when considering exemptions; and asked for our recommendations for changes to the law. The way in which the Commission is now developing these recommendations, however, is not a win for the public. This is because the Commission voted at its public meeting yesterday to adopt a ‘closed door policy’ rather than meeting in open to discuss recommendations. The debate was interesting. Some reasons given for the ‘closed door’ approach: this is a routine report and does not warrant public debate; one-on-one conversations can do all this; public meeting discussions will just be grandstanding speeches.
Ask yourself: can five people gain the same knowledge through only individual conversations as they can if they add a team dialogue where everyone hears everyone else’s comments and exchange of ideas? The five-member Commission has taken the ‘open door’ team meeting approach time and time again on individual issues related to the CPSIA and yet now, when it is time to look at CPSIA issues and make recommendations at the request of Congress, the Commission chose to be non-transparent and to splinter off exclusively into one-on-one conversations. Don’t get me wrong: private one-on-one conversations have a benefit, but they don’t have the benefit of an open group review and analysis. It’s hard to have a meeting of the minds, if the minds don’t meet.
On an issue as critical as the implementation challenges of the CPSIA, the public has a right to hear and understand each Commissioner’s views and rationale for the positions they will now have discussed only in closed offices. Yesterday the Commission, by a 2-2 vote, failed to follow the essential goal of The Sunshine Act: to have important government policy decisions debated, deliberated, and decided by the Commission in a public meeting so all can understand. Our deliberations will now be done behind closed doors, without allowing each Commissioner the benefit of a combined conversation, without allowing the public the benefit of knowing how the Commissioners came up with their final recommendations.
There’s a reason quality teams discuss issues as a team, not just through staff. A quality team meets as a team to gain from their combined dialogue based on their combined experience and expertise. It’s a shame that just won’t happen here, at one of the more important moments in dealing with one of the most important consumer statutes.
CPSIA gave the agency important tools and new responsibilities. However, it also created a number of unintended consequences that many Members of Congress now agree need to be addressed. I’m concerned about our report back to Congress. The CPSIA has many good provisions and I want only to improve it. I hope it does improve and I will be working hard, albeit behind closed doors, to try to assure that it does.
Want to talk about CPSIA protection for consumers? If you’re a consumer, we can talk anytime, anywhere. If you’re a Commissioner, guess I’ll be talking with you privately.
Watch the webcast here. Click on “Commission Public Briefing/Meeting (Wednesday, January 6, 2010, 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. ET).”