Archive for September, 2012

Doing More Harm Than Good?

Is cost-benefit analysis valuable? Every president (including the current one) for over 30 years thought so and directed agencies to use this tool to make their regulations balanced before issuing them. Independent agencies (like the CPSC), no less than agencies that report directly to the president, should follow the same policy. Unfortunately, CPSC seems determined to avoid this helpful tool saying that it is too burdensome. The head of GWU’s Regulatory Studies Center Susan Dudley writes about efforts to improve regulations at independent agencies through greater use of cost-benefit analysis. When will the CPSC get the message? Read her article here.

Revisiting CPSC’s Regulatory Roots

It’s rare in life to meet the people who blazed the trail you’re walking, but that’s exactly what my colleagues and I did today.

This year is the CPSC’s 40th anniversary, and the agency’s five original commissioners joined us for a day of looking back and looking forward. Each of these extraordinary individuals—Dick Simpson, Larry Kushner, Connie Newman, Barbara Franklin, and David Pittle—signed up for the daunting task of opening the doors at a new federal agency. Their management skills and their commitment to consumer safety public service set a standard we try to live up to, and many of their policy choices remain in place 40 years later.

The staff and the current commissioners spent the morning learning from the people who did it first. After a wonderful lunch, we gave them a tour of our new lab, a continuation of the science-driven policymaking they began decades ago. In talking with and listening to these trailblazers, I was most impressed by their spirit of public service, a spirit that ensured a collegial atmosphere even during their most contentious policy discussions.

Competing Realities

In Washington, unlike the rest of the nation, competing realities are what we live with every day.  As I was doing my daily reading, this came home to me in two articles. One is a report of the extraordinary number of new regulations coming out of the federal government.  In the other, a former Administration official touts the feds’ record in reducing the regulatory burdens imposed by Washington.  I wish to could say that reducing regulatory burden was important but here at the CPSC, that is rarely the case.  Gosh, we couldn’t even agree on how to design a plan to look at the issue, much less do it.  Here is a statement I recently posted about our failed attempt to do regulatory review.

When the Team Loses an All-Star

One of CPSC’s best leaders, Cheri Falvey, will wrap up her tenure as the agency’s general counsel this Friday.

Cheri joined us as our general counsel in 2008. The now-retired Commissioner Moore and I, then the only two members of the Commission, wanted to make sure the person we chose to be our general counsel would be not only a brilliant lawyer, but someone who had the wisdom to know what the agency leadership needed to hear and the courage to say it, someone who could give the advice to keep us out of court and defend us when we got there.

And we knew the best way to get the person and the counsel we needed was to keep the position as far from the political realm as possible. If our general counsel—the agency’s chief lawyer—had to worry about keeping her job if she told a Commissioner something he or she didn’t want to hear, then we wouldn’t really have a lawyer. We would have a sycophant, useful to the egos of the “correctly-aligned” Commissioners but useless or even dangerous to the health of the agency and the people it serves.

In the four-and-a-half years she’s been here, Cheri has consistently given us excellent and honest counsel. That includes telling us (me included, on occasion) that we’re wrong, that we can’t do something we’d like, or must do something we would rather not. The world of administrative law is a complex, shifting one, and a mistake today can destroy our best work tomorrow. Cheri has helped us to see the pitfalls before we step in them.  She has been an extraordinary general counsel and dedicated public servant.

Cheri’s departure will be a loss to the agency, but I’m hopeful we’ll follow the example Commissioner Moore and I set when we hired her and choose her successor based on legal acumen, not political ideology.

Help Us Cut Costs, Not Corners

Over a year ago Congress, rightly concerned by the regulatory burdens the CPSC was imposing, directed us in H.R. 2715 to look at ways to reduce the costs and burdens of testing, consistent with assuring compliance with applicable product safety rules.  So for the past year the staff has been considering this issue.  As readers of this blog know, I believe that there are many things this agency could do to reduce the burdens we have imposed—things that would minimize costs without jeopardizing safety.  That, of course, should have been our goal from the beginning, but unfortunately, for some Commissioners, political convenience trumped thoughtful regulating so Congress had to step in.

We have now gotten from our staff the report that Congress asked us to do.  Here is the link to the briefing package on our web site.  Throughout the past summer I have discussed what I believe should be in the recommendations.  Now I would like to hear from you. 

  • How will the staff recommendations impact you?
  • Would implementation of the staff’s ideas reduce costs? Impact safety?
  • If these ideas are helpful, tell me why.  If not, tell me how they could be improved.  What else should we be doing?

You can respond by commenting on this blog post.  However, if you prefer, you can also send me your thoughts by email at   The staff will be briefing the Commission on September 19 at a public meeting that will streamed online via webcast.  Let me have your thoughts before the meeting so that I can raise your issues with the staff.  And, as always, thanks for giving me the opportunity to have this dialogue with you.

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