Archive for June, 2010

Don’t Put the Cart Before the Horse

The comment period for our regulation defining what is a children’s product has just now closed and the staff, over the next few months, will be analyzing the comments and preparing a final rule for the Commissioners’ consideration.  This definition is needed to determine when third party testing is required.  Nevertheless, tomorrow the Commissioners will be discussing the need for third party testing requirements to show compliance with the carpet and rug flammability rules.  The question before us is, does the CPSIA require that so-called “youth” carpets be third party tested to this reg even though:  (1) there seems to be wide spread compliance through a well-established and long-standing testing and guarantee program, (2) there is no hazard presented that is unique to children, and (3) there are real questions as to what is a “youth” carpet anyway, given that the flammability characteristics of a carpet do not change whether Sponge Bob or a stripe is woven into it.

This issue presents, in real terms, the conundrum presented both by this law and the CPSC’s implementation efforts, that is, viewing testing as an end in itself rather than a means to help achieve safety.  If a proposed requirement does not advance safety, I submit that we have an obligation to look for ways to forego regulating.  I believe this because implementation is not an academic exercise—real jobs are being lost unnecessarily because of our actions.   

This point was brought home with the following email that I received which reads in part:
“My [profit] is down 11.8% . . . on sales that are only down 5.9% from 2007 – a damned miracle in my mind.  After three solid months of hard work, we gave our owners $11,100 in pre-tax income or 1/2 OF 1 PERCENT of sales for the first quarter of this year.  That makes us a non-profit pretty much de facto. Four years ago we turned in $280,000 in pre-tax income or 11.2% of sales.  While I can ‘blame’ the economy for a lot of this, in reality the time, energy and resources that are being misdirected toward (CPSIA) compliance – NOT SAFETY, COMPLIANCE. . Out here in the ‘real world’, resources are limited, we cannot print money (run in the red) and people do lose jobs.  There is a serious disconnect here between safety and actual risk . . . Thousands of jobs depend on you fishing or cutting bait on this issue. . . “

I will continue to advocate for common sense application of the law, I hope my colleagues will do the same.

Deadlines Looming

Over the past few months the agency has been busy issuing for public comment proposed rules required by CPSIA. Consumer safety is unquestionably our goal at the CPSC, however, some of these proposals are questionable in how consumer safety might be achieved, and unclear at what expense. Some of these proposals are aimed at specific products, some are administrative in nature and some are very significant and will have a profound impact, for better or worse, on the cost and availability of consumer products.  It is so important that those who will be affected by these proposed rules let us know how they will impact you.  Your comments can indeed shape the final product.  In past blogs, I have discussed the importance of getting comments from those affected by our actions.  Because the public comment period for many of these proposals is closing over the upcoming summer months, I thought it would be useful to list some of them and the end date for comments.  So here goes:

Interpretation of Children’s Product — June 21, 2010

Publicly Available Consumer Complaint Database — July 23, 2010

Testing Rules for Component Parts — August 3, 2010

Testing and Labeling Pertaining to Product Certification (15 Month Rule) — August 3, 2010

We also have out for comment several proposed rules dealing with specific products such as toddler bed, bassinets, and drawstrings on children’s outwear, among others. 

While these proposed rules are important, I don’t have to remind you they impose a real impact on those who make consumer products.  Since the agency has abandoned cost/ benefit analysis of these rules, we will not have information on the real world impact of our rules – unless you tell us.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

In a recent podcast for the Federalist Society, I discussed with my fellow commissioner Bob Adler our differing views on the CPSIA, as well as how we reached those conclusions.  I welcome these kinds of opportunities to openly discuss the consequences of the CPSIA and possible solutions for the future.  Everyone agrees that the CPSIA needs some fixing.  Let’s hope that Congress steps up to the plate.  Anyway, have a listen, and give me some feedback on what you think. 

Share your thoughts, post a comment, and engage in this important debate.

Another Episode of “LOST”

This fiscal year we found that at our mid-year budget review we had $7 million in funds that were not spoken for.  Therefore I proposed an amendment to the budget to allocate funds to do a cost/benefit analysis on the Product Testing and Certification rule, which sets out ground rules for continuing product testing.  This rule is one of the most significant rules we have ever considered and will have a significant impact on the global manufacturing chain. (See my statement on this rule here.)  We know it will have a major adverse impact on small businesses.  I believe that before we regulate we need the full picture – both the costs and the benefits – of this rule so that we can regulate from an informed point of view.  Unfortunately, my amendment was not accepted.  This is just another lost opportunity to get our arms around the potential costs of the CPSIA.  I am disappointed, and puzzled, that my colleagues, by not agreeing to this study, decided to move ahead without better insight into the effect of their actions. Read my full statement here.

A Paper Clip is Just a Paper Clip

I recently met with representatives of the Hands-On Science Partnership to discuss the impact of the CPSIA on their program.  This group tries to stimulate kids in grades K-12 to get interested in science by doing hands-on activities with materials used in everyday life.  The Partnership puts together a curriculum and related teaching aids – with things like paperclips, nails, rubber bands and other common household items – for classroom use by students.  Unfortunately, putting these common items in science kits arguably turns them into “children’s products” under the CPSIA, meaning they must be tested by third party testing labs.  If this interpretation of a “children’s product” holds, the testing costs will be too much for the program to survive as it is currently set up.  Students and science would be the losers.  

I have often criticized the CPSIA because it has forced us to turn our attention away from products that have been shown to harm consumers to regulating things that really should not be regulated.  This is a perfect example of something that we should not be regulating.  It is crazy that the Hands-On Science Partnership needs to be concerned about doing lead tests on products purchased at an office supply store and then packaged into a science teaching kit for use with children.  Even crazier is the fact that if a teacher buys the same paper clip at the same store and uses it for the same science teaching project, it’s okay.

Our regulations should regulate things that really need to be regulated. Hold that thought with a paper clip.

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