Several weeks ago, Neal Cohen, the CPSC small business ombudsman, called to tell me that he was leaving the agency. Neal created the job of ombudsman and it turned out to be one of the most difficult and most under-appreciated but critically important positions at the CPSC.
The office of small business ombudsman was set up in 2010 in an effort to respond to the growing cries, especially from the small business community, that the agency’s regulations implementing the 2008 CPSIA statute were imposing a crushing burden on product sellers, notably small businesses. When the office was set up, I argued that it should be a true ombudsman, bringing to the agency the concerns of small businesses as well as developing and advocating for solutions to the problems that community faced because of agency action. Instead, the office was designed to be an outreach and education office—to help the small business community understand and comply with regulations. While not fully meeting the true definition of an ombudsman, this still was a very important role, especially given the complexity of the rules the agency was in the midst of writing. And Neal was just the right person to fill the position.
Over the past five years, Neal has worked tirelessly to make sure that businesses, especially small ones, understand their safety obligations as product sellers. He has designed educational programs, given presentations throughout the country, answered thousands of emails and phone calls, and through that process, has helped the agency put a human and caring face on its work. The latest achievement of his office, development of the Regulatory Robot, an on-line tool to help businesses understand what regulations they are subject to, will continue to be a testament to his dedication and hard work.
Whoever follows Neal in this role will have big shoes to fill but also a very good role model for how to get done a difficult but important job. February 19, 2016 will be Neal’s final day at the agency. And as Neal leaves federal service to go into the private sector, no doubt he will come to understand even more the important public service he provided.