Put Accuracy to Work for Consumers

The Wichita Eagle also posted my op ed piece outlining my concerns with the consumer product database.  I am worried that we could be giving the public misleading information, with the government stamp of approval. I applaud Representative Pompeo for taking a leadership role on this issue. The text of my opinion piece is below:

“Put Accuracy to Work for Consumers”

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, has been receiving criticism for raising questions about a well-intentioned but flawed federal program to establish a public database of safety complaints about consumer products. However, he is doing exactly what a member of Congress should do — raising questions about how best to use tax dollars and whether scarce public resources should be used for such a poorly conceived program.

Though the objectives of this program are laudable — to provide consumers with reliable information about the safety of the products they buy — one can and should question the way in which this program is being implemented.

I have served as a commissioner at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission for the past five years and have closely watched the development of this database. I can attest that this program may well mislead consumers to their detriment. Here are some of my concerns:

* Instead of limiting the people who can post a complaint to those with firsthand information about the incident, anyone can post a complaint — trial lawyers trolling for clients, unscrupulous competitors looking to damage a business or its reputation, or the gossiping neighbor down the street who heard the story “through the grapevine.”

* Instead of requiring those who submit complaints to at least put the location of the incident or the model number of the product, complaints could be filled with only sketchy information that is of little use to anyone.

* Instead of verifying that the information posted to the database is correct, the commission is under no obligation to confirm the accuracy of information submitted, even when the accuracy is challenged. And while it is clear the commission will not investigate most of these claims, when we do, we are not planning on telling consumers the results. It appears that once the complaint is there, accurate or not, it’s there indefinitely.

We had the chance to make the database a helpful tool for consumers, but instead it will potentially become just another sinkhole for complaints, but with the apparent “seal of approval” that comes from being on a federal government website. We had the opportunity to get it right but instead spent millions of taxpayer dollars to construct something that could well mislead consumers and undermine our safety mission. Consumer safety is not advanced by such a result.

To be clear, the intent is not to keep reports from consumers; the goal is to give consumers accurate reports that can be safely relied upon in their decisions.

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