“Let’s put the money where the risk is”

If it’s springtime in Washington, then it’s time for the annual appropriations process, when federal agencies testify before Congress about funding for the next fiscal year. And so yesterday the CPSC appeared before a House appropriations subcommittee to explain our budget request.

The subcommittee asked to hear from Chairman Tenenbaum and myself. I took the opportunity to highlight my concern about using scarce public resources to regulate products that do not present real risks–yet that is what we are doing because of the CPSIA. I argued that the agency needs flexibility to help us respond appropriately to real world situations and avoid consequences that we do not believe most Members of Congress intended.

I was gratified that both subcommittee Chairman Jose Serrano (D-NY) and the ranking subcommittee member, Rep. Joanne Emerson (R-MO), agreed that we need to balance aggressive consumer protection with sensible regulation. Rep. Emerson was especially interested in whether we have done any economic analysis of the CPSIA rules we have been issuing. Unfortunately, in spite of best efforts by Commissioner Northup and me for such studies, I had to report that the agency has not done that kind of analysis. I hope that with Rep. Emerson’s encouragement, we can take a closer look at the economic impact of the numerous rules coming out of the agency.

One member of the subcommittee did argue that concern for protecting small businesses from excessive and poorly-conceived regulation was at odds with consumer protection. That member also stated that we need to remove all lead from children’s environments–asking how expensive could it be, for example, to remove the lead from the ball point pen tip. Unfortunately this argument misses the point that the lead in the pen tip (and many of the other products we are regulating) does not present a real risk of lead poisoning to children and therefore is not something we should be spending the public’s resources regulating.

Hopefully, the positions expressed by members such as Chairman Serrano and Rep Emerson for balance and flexibility will win the day. We are now regulating products that do not present real risks and imposing excessive testing costs that do not necessarily advance safety. This raises the question of best use of scarce public resources; the answer to that question concerns us all, especially our Congressional appropriators.

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6 Responses to ““Let’s put the money where the risk is””


  1. 1 Capitolization March 8, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    The Handmade Toy Alliance recently posted a study they did that shows that Congress & CPSC could save manufacturers $3.7 billion (yes, Billion) by allowing XRF for testing.

    http://handmadetoyalliance.blogspot.com/2010/02/allowing-xrf-testing-for-cpsia.html

  2. 2 Emily March 7, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    Amen! It is nice to hear some voices of reason in this midst of all this!

  3. 3 D'Haese Robin March 6, 2010 at 6:45 am

    nice blog ;)

  4. 4 Jennifer Taggart, TheSmartMama March 5, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    I have to say that it seems in turns of reducing real risk for children, the money would be better spent in educating about lead based paint hazards. Aside from lead in jewelry, lead in vinyl, and phthalates in mouthing items, there doesn’t seem to be much real risk associated with the lead and phthalate rules of the CPSIA, but a TON of money is being spent.

  5. 5 tsaylor March 5, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    Great article and at least the commissioners were able to bring attention to the difficulty of regulating inconsequential products. The question is, will the committee leave this meeting with a real concern for the unintentional consequences on small businesses, large companies and consumer alike and begin a dialogue which leads to action and change? It’s a shame that Congress put everyone in this mess and has since ignored it as if our industry isn’t of concern and our arguments aren’t valid. http://www.supersafetydad.com

  6. 6 Vivian Zabel March 5, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    The committee member concerned about removing all lead from children’s environments apparently doesn’t realize that to do that all children must be placed in lead-free bubbles of some type. Nature is full of lead to some extent: never mind that the tips of ballpoint pens might have a tiny bit of lead, which children don’t usually eat.

    Protecting everyone from all harm is physically impossible. We have to use some common sense, which appears to be in short supply.

    Thank you for your use of common sense.


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