Sunshine Doesn’t Shine Through Closed Doors

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).”


14 Responses to “Sunshine Doesn’t Shine Through Closed Doors”

  1. 1 Robin Hale April 4, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    More individuals need to educate themselves AND speak up. Like Martin Luther King said, “Silence as a response to injustice is just as bad as those directly involved with the injustice.” (paraphrased by me.) Keep up the great work.
    Robin Hale

  2. 2 Vivian Zabel January 10, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    Thank you for your courage, even if you did become a voice crying in the wilderness.

    Those of us who are small business owners certainly don’t feel we are being heard. In fact we feel as if we are being pushed out. Wonder if those who don’t care realize we can still vote?

    Vivian Zabel

  3. 3 cmmjaime January 9, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    And as a reseller, I feel like we have been left completely out of ALL current discussions.

    Please keep up the good work — somebody needs to “get it”!

  4. 4 sharon January 8, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    Commissioner Nord,
    Thank you for all you have tried to do since the inception of this
    law to bring common sense to the table. I do hope that you and Commissioner Northup will request to give your views and recommendations before Congress and the committees.

    Thank you!

    • 5 Commissioner Nord January 10, 2010 at 12:04 pm

      Sharon, I continue to be so concerned that a law designed to help consumers (which includes all of us) could have such unwarrented and negative results on so many law abiding businesses. I am committed to trying to achieve changes that will make this law work without the unintended consequences that we have seen to date. However, we need help from folks like you who are having to live with this law on a daily basis. My other colleagues at the commission and Members of Congress need to understand what is happening in the real world.

  5. 6 Mars Feeney January 8, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    As a lifelong, middle of the road Democrat I have usually but not always agreed with the positions of the Democratic Party. But never in my wildest dreams would I have believed they would make a mistake the magnitude of the CPSIA.

    Of course mistakes do happen from time to time, even big ones. But persisting in a mistake the magnitude of the CPSIA is simply unconscionable. However, that is exactly what our Congressional Democrats are doing! They have dug their heels in and by God they are going to make this mistake stick! No matter what the damage done.

    The only damage they seem to be concerned with is damage to their integrity. But they have it backwards. The longer they ignore the growing mountain of evidence that the CPSIA does more harm than good, the more integrity they lose. And throwing out the principles they claim to believe in, such as transparency in government, only damages their image more.

    I believe the massive amount of money wasted by this law and the unworkable byzantine bureaucracy it creates hurts big business, small business and ma and pop businesses.

    But more than that, I believe this law hurts children more than it helps them! Many creative and educational products have become unmanufacturable because of the CPSIA – not because they are unsafe but because they are too expensive to test. For very little return in safety this law is significantly degrading the creative and educational environments of children.

    This is not a “child safety” vs “business profits” issue. It is an “intelligent, efficient, effective law” vs “stupid, inefficient, ineffective law” issue. The CPSIA unfortunately is the latter. It’s time for the Democrats in Congress start rebuilding their integrity by putting our country, our businesses, and our children first by fixing this law.

  6. 7 David Jones January 8, 2010 at 1:41 am

    Commissioner Nord,
    You can include part of the public by tweeting from the meeting. We’ll provide feedback/input by tweets back to you.

  7. 9 Esther January 7, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    Honestly, the best recommendation is to repeal the CPSIA. Of course, such a thing is not politically ideal. Even so, the effects of the CPSIA on small business has been disastrous. I am not sure there is a fix good enough to bring back the businesses that have been lost.

    • 10 Commissioner Nord January 10, 2010 at 12:10 pm

      I agree that repeal of CPSIA will not happen but I continue to hope that Congress will make some changes so that the law works to help consumers without undue burden on business. While we are working to try to reach consensus among Commissioners as to recommended changes, that process is very unweldy and I am concerned about the work product coming out of it. You need to continue talking to the Members of Congress who represent you about the changes you think need to be made.

  8. 11 Mom January 7, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    Thank you for your concern for small manufacturers. What many people don’t seem to realize is that this law doesn’t just affect large and small manufacturers, it affects stay at home Moms, craft show crafters, church bazaars, and custom one of a kind artisans. It affects the crafter who loves to create one of a kind products simply for the creative outlet and the WAHM who just wants to earn a little extra money to put bread and milk on the table for her kids so she doesn’t havce to rely on food stamps and public assistance. It sounds to me, a normal small town citizen, that this could be a means for large manufacturers to trample the growing handcrafted business community.
    What are your suggestions to crafters in regards to getting our concerns heard since it sounds like Commission has decided not to listen?

    • 12 Commissioner Nord January 10, 2010 at 12:20 pm

      My suggestion is that you reach out to your Members of Congress to let them know your concerns. The Commission will be sending some recommendations to Congress but the process does not seem to be designed to get to consensus so it is unclear how effective the recommendations will be. Nevertheless we will keep working this week to try to craft something that works for people like you. I agree that we cannot only think about how this law works for established big businesses. The importance of small entrepeneurs and individuals cannot be forgotten and the impact of the law on such busnesses must be considered.

  1. 1 CPSC reports to Congress on CPSIA Trackback on January 20, 2010 at 10:02 am
  2. 2 CPSIA – Nancy Nord Isn’t Being Squelched! : Trackback on January 8, 2010 at 12:32 am

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