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.