Archive for the 'Congress' Category



Actions, Not Just Words

Government is known for “taking action” by commissioning studies, and the CPSC apparently strives to live up to that reputation. This is well illustrated by the way the agency is pretending to follow congressional direction to figure out ways to reduce testing costs: we repeatedly are asking the public for ways to reduce costs but without the promise of taking any action. Perhaps we think that if we study the issue long enough, those suffering under the unwarranted costs we have imposed will be long out of business, consumers will just get used to overpaying for regulatory burdens, and the issue will go away.

Our testing and certification rule places enormous burdens on companies with too little benefit to consumers. In 2011, Congress and the President tried to focus the agency on the issue through Public Law 112-28, telling us to ask the public to help us find savings, fix what we could without weakening compliance, and ask for more authority if we needed it. We have been dragging our feet on that work, and the latest chapter—our Fiscal Year 2014 budget request—makes clear that we won’t pick up the pace anytime soon.

In this budget, the extent of our burden reduction effort is to acknowledge that P.L. 112-28 exists. I tried to get agreement on an amendment that would have added a statement that we “may undertake activity to reduce the burdens identified” and that our staff would, as appropriate, prepare briefing packages on specific proposals. Of course, I would have preferred stronger language, but I wanted my colleagues’ agreement to this small commitment to action and so I offered this as a compromise. My colleagues found that too bold, explaining instead that we had already fulfilled our obligations under the law, voluntarily followed up on some of the comments we received, and might do more in the future.

I do not concur with my colleagues’ cramped and nonsensical view that all the law requires is that we seek comments on how to reduce burdens. (Would Congress really have asked us to get public comments and not intend us to review, analyze, and act on them?) Once presented with real options for reducing burdens, we have an obligation to take some action. Since my colleagues were not willing to make even this small commitment I could not in good conscience support a budget that asks for more resources but ignores basic regulatory obligations, especially as other agencies expect cuts to their resources. (My official statement on the budget can be found here.)

In 2012, our staff suggested 16 (non-exclusive) ways to reduce testing burdens and in the FY13 operating plan, the Commission whittled its to-do list down to sending out further requests for more information on just four ideas. We’ve asked for comments upon comments. Information is good (and people should again respond to our request), but Congress wanted us to do something about costs, not just consider doing something at some future time.

In response to my objections, I’ve heard the “door is not closed” on reducing burdens. The tone underlying that statement is that we’ve already done what we need to do, but we might do more. As discussed, I don’t think we have done much at all, but let’s take the statement at face value. Is there any reason to believe the door isn’t closed? Agencies only do the work they budget for, and not designating any resources for testing burden reduction is a sign that we won’t be doing that work.

I’m also told the budget is not really the appropriate place for burden reduction, that our operating plan would be the better vehicle. If it’s like the FY13 operating plan, the next version won’t even be written until halfway through FY14, when most of our resources are already committed. That’s the regulatory equivalent of “when we get around to it.” It’s not consistent with either the law or our obligation as public servants to regulate with no heavier a hand than necessary to reduce unreasonable risks to consumers.

Taking a Look Under the Hood

Today the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade held a hearing to look at how the CPSC is carrying out its mandate.  What we didn’t say was more interesting than what we did say. You see, the Subcommittee is especially interested in our efforts to implement last year’s CPSIA reform bill, H.R. 2715. Since we have not done much in that regard, we did not have much to tell them.

Here’s a copy of the statement I filed with the Subcommittee, and you can watch the hearing here.

When There’s No Bang for the Buck

Sometimes what seems like a good idea just doesn’t work out. When that happens, we should admit it and correct course.

As the CPSC and Congress have struggled to try to reduce the number of children drowning, one idea that has not worked is a grant program to spur states to pass particular water safety and swimming pool construction laws. For the past few years, Congress has set aside several million dollars for grants to states and localities that pass certain pool safety laws. Because the CPSC does not administer federal grants like this, we pay the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to administer this program. As we try for the third year to make this grant program work, we should look at where we stand:

  • Since the beginning of the program, not one state has applied for a grant and not one dollar has been disbursed, despite changes made to improve the program.
  • We will soon have paid CDC almost half a million dollars to administer a grant program with no takers.

Drowning is a safety problem that must be dealt with as effectively as possible. The public resources that have been allocated to an unused grant program could have been, and should be, used to actually address the issue. Trying to encourage states to pass laws by offering them a small, one-time shot of cash does not seem to be the best way to achieve our safety objective.

I suggest that Congress can—and should—find better ways to spend scarce public resources. That means either allowing the Commission greater discretion in using the funds to further pool safety or directing the funds elsewhere.

Why Cost Benefit Analysis Makes Sense

I’m not the only person talking about making federal regulations smarter. As I noted in my Politico piece last week, the Regulatory Accountability Act would make agencies take the costs and benefits of their regulations more seriously before they finalize them. This is something that the CPSC has not done with rules issued under the Consumer Product Safety Improvements Act, because the Act specifically gave the agency the opportunity to opt out of doing cost-benefit analysis.  Happily, one of the chief architects of the CPSIA, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark) has joined with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and others to make sure that the CPSC and other agencies do a better job of considering the impact of rules before they issue them. These two senators take to the pages of Politico to discuss the need for a better regulatory process. As they explain:

Employers…say they would like to expand and add jobs, but the regulatory environment has become too uncertain and costly.  Over-regulation now tops the list of ‘most important problems’ faced by small businesses…now is the time to build a more job-friendly regulatory system. This bipartisan blueprint would do just that.

It is unfortunate that the CPSC did not think about minimizing regulatory cost as we busily churned out regulations over the past several years.  Maybe that will now change. 

Read their piece here.

End Government by Guesswork

Regulators need good data to make good policy. As President Obama made clear yesterday in his speech to Congress, it’s important to reform regulations that are “unnecessary[] or too costly.” He demanded that federal agencies “eliminate rules that don’t make sense.”

But over the last two and a half years, the Commission hasn’t taken the time to make sensible rules. Instead, we crystal-balled benefits and ignored costs that we refuse to measure. And since our rules came into effect, costs for consumers have gone up needlessly as companies pass their costs on or leave markets entirely. These results are unnecessary and do not benefit consumers. We could have minimized them by performing cost-benefit analyses. Today, Politico posted my op-ed explaining in more detail why cost-benefit analysis makes for smart regulation and why the CPSC needs to get back to competent, sensible regulating. You can read it here.

Regulatory Malpractice

In a decision that surprised few, the CPSC voted today to ignore common sense and regulatory conscience. We witnessed a majority putting its last grasp of political power ahead of doing what was right.

In 2008, Congress required that we put in place a rule telling the regulated community how to test and certify that the products they make meet the relevant standards. The deadline Congress imposed has long since passed, but we all agreed that the details of the rule proved much harder to write than its basic idea did. Staff put much time and effort into a rule with some solid pieces that I could support. Then the majority, all behind closed doors, summarily dismissed these changes and determined they knew better than our experts. I cannot support their changes, and I cannot ignore their tactics.

The way the majority has handled this rule is, in my opinion, regulatory malpractice. They ultimately didn’t listen to staff, they really didn’t listen to Congress, they didn’t sincerely listen to the regulated community, and they certainly didn’t listen to their fellow Commissioners. All parties pointed in the direction of re-proposal so that we could hear and learn from public comment on the significantly changed rule and the new law surrounding it. Instead, the majority seemingly pushed this through because they soon would not be a majority.

Their reckless disregard for the value of public input in writing regulations is stunning. Other agencies have sought extra public comment when proposals or facts changed. Here, we had a new law change the framework supporting a rule, and, still the majority said we will listen to public comment only after we vote out the thing the public will be commenting on.

The majority is quick to suggest that seeking re-proposal is seeking delay. That’s pure fiction. I offered an amendment to re-propose this rule in light of the statutory changes Congress made, to make the rule better and more likely to stand up in court. Under my proposal, the rule still would have taken effect within the same timeframe as the rule passed today. The majority had a chance to get this done better and faster. Instead, they blew it.

My heart aches for any family who has lost a child due to a faulty consumer product. The pain they feel can never be dismissed or diminished. That pain, however, cannot justify irrational decision-making or misuse of power.

There’s an old lawyer adage: When you have the law on your side, pound the law; when you have the facts on your side, pound the facts; when you have neither the law nor the facts on your side, pound the table. The table-pounding by my colleagues today speaks for itself.

This arrogant dismissal of input from both peers and the public on such an important vote betrays the public trust we bear to implement statutes fairly, openly, and responsibly.

Major Rule, Major Costs

For those of you who aren’t experts in the field of administrative law, when an agency issues a significant new rule, it has to do what’s called a Regulatory Flexibility Act analysis, also known as “Reg Flex”. That’s not Calisthenics for Commissioners (though that’s not a bad idea). It’s a report that examines the impact a new rule will have on the economy, and specifically on small businesses.

The Reg Flex analysis for the testing rule we will vote on tomorrow looked at the costs of this rule, especially on small businesses.  Here is some of what our staff is telling us:

  •  This rule “will have a significant impact on all firms” making children’s products.  For example, the staff estimates that for large firms, increased testing costs will be approximately 1.2% of revenues.  For small firms, testing costs as a percent of revenues could be expected to increase to a staggering 11.7%. 
  •  The rule will have this financial impact on all manufacturers and importers of children’s products.  While we do not have a good handle on precisely how many firms this may be, it will be in the hundreds of thousands of firms.
  •  The testing rule “could be a barrier that inhibits new firms from entering . . . the market.”
  •  Impacted companies may “forgo or delay implementing improvement to products’ design or manufacturing processes in order to avoid the costs of third party testing.”
  •  Firms may be able to mitigate “the adverse impacts if they are able to raise their prices to cover their costs.”
  •  “The impact is expected to be disproportionate on small and low-volume manufacturers.”

At a recent briefing on this rule, one of my colleagues suggested that we already have done everything we can to reduce the costs of this rule.  What I believe he was saying is that we have done everything three Commissioners are willing to do to reduce the rule’s cost.  There are a number of things we could actually do to bring down the testing costs imposed by this rule.  Some of those things are even suggested in the Reg Flex analysis.  And we could still have a robust testing rule to address safety concerns. 

We know that this rule will burden our economy.  Our staff says so.  Because Congress was concerned about the high costs of testing, it recently told us to seek out ways to reduce the testing costs in this rule.  Therefore, before issuing this rule, we should do as Congress asked and look at ways to reduce the costs of testing consistent with assuring compliance with our safety standards. 

Unfortunately, politics often trumps good policy here at the CPSC, so tomorrow we will issue a final testing rule and then look for ways to reduce costs of the rule we are issuing.  Talk about putting the cart before the horse!  And this approach certainly raises the question of how sincere the effort to reduce costs will be. 

While we all agree on the goal of child product safety, I am convinced we can achieve that without incurring the staggering costs identified by our staff.


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