Archive for February, 2010

Real Talk About Real Problems

As I discussed in a recent blog, the Commission 3 weeks ago sent to the Congress suggestions for amendments to the CPSIA.  Although these suggested changes were modest, they were supported by all five CPSC Commissioners and represent the agency’s first unanimous statement that changes need to be made in the law.  (Individual Commissioners made additional suggestions.) While there has been no official response to our suggestions, there has been much behind the scenes activity to try to craft some amendments to the CPSIA. 

As an example, last week, my colleague, Commissioner Northup, and I met with the staffs of a number of Republican Senators who wanted to hear firsthand about implementation problems with the CPSIA.  It is my impression that the Republican Senators represented at the meeting want the agency to be addressing safety issues actually facing consumers, not spending public resources regulating products that do not present a real risk of injury. 

In addition, the Commissioners’ staffs have been discussing our recommendations with the House and Senate Commerce Committee staff.  My sense from these discussions is that there is genuine interest in identifying some statutory fixes. The challenge of course is one person’s fix is another person’s problem.  As yet, we are not close to consensus on amendments. 

In his State of the Union speech, the President emphasized the need to create jobs.  We know that the CPSIA has been responsible for many businesses incurring tremendous economic loses and, in some cases, shutting their doors all together.  Fixing the problems with the CPSIA should be part of the Administration’s jobs program.  It appears that Congress is considering making changes to the law.  The question now is what changes will be effective.  Part of the answer to that question depends on what Congress hears from those impacted by this law.  A public hearing would help identify real problems and help craft real solutions.

Smart Move for Small Business

The CPSIA gives the agency little flexibility to ameliorate its impact on small manufacturers and crafters. However, I believe that the CPSC has a real obligation to help small businesses who are trying their best to navigate the choppy regulatory waters surrounding the CPSIA. Therefore, last week, I proposed that the agency create a full time position of small business ombudsman to provide both assistance and information to small businesses trying to understand how to comply with the law. I am pleased to report that my colleagues agreed that such a position is needed.

It almost goes without saying that the impact of the CPSIA has fallen much more heavily on our country’s small business community. In a recent issue of Product Safety Letter, representatives of the giant toy company, Mattel, described efforts to comply with the CPSIA, including the number of outside lawyers the company has hired to supplement its in-house legal staff, concluding “the law…is unclear…difficult to decipher…It’s a lot of work. I don’t know how smaller companies do it.” While I recognize that a dedicated agency resource will not equalize the disproportionate burden faced by small businesses, at least there will be a place to go for help. Our challenge now will be to get the position filled as quickly as possible.

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