Today the CPSC was briefed by staff about the complex public database required by the CPSIA. This was the opportunity for Commissioners to ask staff questions in preparation for voting on the database final rule. A number of very substantive questions were raised by Commissioners, both from the standpoint of what the proposed rule means and how the project will work. A number of other issues could have been raised. Unfortunately for the public, the majority gaveled the meeting to a close before Commissioners had the opportunity to complete their questions.
For example, I had several questions about the regulatory flexibility analysis that states the database will have no significant impact on small business. I strongly disagree with this analysis and wanted all of us to learn more about why the staff came out where they did. The majority did not allow me to ask those questions. Apparently, we will be voting on this proposal without the benefit of a public discussion with staff of major issues. What a strange way to encourage transparency! You should watch the tape, from start to finish, since we touched upon many issues that fundamentally affect how this database will operate, how good the information will be that is made available to the consumer, how dramatic the effect may be on manufacturers, large and small, and finally, how the majority can close off public discussion.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to travel to High Point, North Carolina to meet with furniture manufacturers during the industry’s biannual trade show. I was blown away by the high level of creativity and workmanship I saw in the various furniture showrooms. They were blown away by the requirements that the CPSC is imposing on them.
The message I heard over and over was that the requirements we are imposing, along with the growing list of other federal and state regulatory requirements they are facing, is becoming an overwhelming burden that is pushing a once-proud American industry off-shore. Several manufacturers that I visited described to me in detail the safety and quality control procedures they have in place–procedures that are working well–and were very critical of our insistence that they change what is working. They were especially angry that changes are being required when there is no demonstrable evidence that enhanced safety will result but there is demonstrable evidence of the significant costs that will be incurred. One furniture company CEO made the point that, in business, costs must be measured against the benefits that will come from additional expenditures. He rightly asked why this principle did not apply to government.
While I expected to hear criticism (and did I!) about the testing requirements we are imposing, I was surprised to hear the strong outrage that was leveled against our proposal to create a public database. I heard that the agency does not appear to be concerned about fairness and does not care that unfounded complaints could damage the reputation of a company. I heard that the agency has an unrealistic view of how and whether a company can reasonably respond to database complaints. I heard story after story about how the database could be used in a pernicious manner by unscrupulous competitors, trial lawyers and advocates for special causes who could salt it with unfounded complaints. I heard that the agency is ignoring these concerns and the sense of trust that you can get a fair shake at the CPSC has been seriously eroded.
We should be working cooperatively with those who make and sell products to assure that safety is built into their products without costly, unproductive regulations. “Loss of faith in government regulations to further safety without unnecessary costs”—that’s an unacceptable report I bring back from this meeting. It’s very troubling and could be avoided with some common sense.