Importing Good Ideas

Over the past couple weeks, my staff and I have had several opportunities to engage with manufacturers, importers, laboratories, safety experts, and our domestic and international peers. I like to attend these programs because I always walk away with a broader understanding of how our actions are working in the real world and how we can improve.

I could overflow this space with observations and insights from all our stakeholders. One takeaway from a meeting I recently attended that I believe is especially worth highlighting is the success of our cooperation with our colleagues at U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, and how that joint effort is enhanced by CBP’s importer outreach programs. I would like to see CPSC take a look at what our peer agencies are doing and see what lessons we can learn to improve our own interactions with the regulated community.

For example, CBP is developing a “one-stop shop” approach for importers to make the customs clearing process more accessible and efficient. This program uses teams co-located in subject-specific centers to work with importers at multiple ports, rather than sending them to a different contact at each port. In addition to providing consistent advice, this also helps CBP staff identify good citizens and bad actors more quickly to help focus resources on the areas of greatest need.

I would like to see CPSC refocus its efforts to make compliance less of a guessing game (which includes making sure the rules are readable for non-lawyers), so that the companies who make and sell safe products can do so with minimal distraction from their actual business. We need to do some hard work so that our regulatory climate is one in which companies feel comfortable asking questions and reaching out to us before molehills grow into mountains. And when problems are identified, we must be willing to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work involved in finding workable solutions.

Moreover, particularly during the lingering budget uncertainty, we need to be more diligent about focusing on real risk. We should focus our limited resources on willfully violative companies, inherently dangerous products, and vulnerable populations, not on minor filing mistakes. Pure paperwork violations—due more often to confusing rules than to bad intent— might need correction, but they simply don’t require the same attention. Every dollar we spend checking off forms is one we can’t spend spotting real unreasonable risks of harm.

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