Archive for April, 2019

Skewing the Facts and Misleading the Public

In a recent story (apparently instigated by a former CPSC commissioner whose reappointment hopes were thwarted by the 2016 election), the Washington Post asserts that the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s leadership is not protecting the public.  The Post article skews the facts to present an inaccurate picture to which a response is warranted.  After much “tugging and pulling” the newspaper today agreed to print my Letter to the Editor attempting to correct some of the innuendos in the story.  Here is a link to the letter:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-real-story-with-the-consumer-product-safety-commission-and-that-stroller/2019/04/14/627a800a-5bb6-11e9-98d4-844088d135f2_story.html?utm_term=.80efcd338ddb

The story involves a popular jogging stroller with a quick release wheel feature.  Injuries occurred, not because the quick release malfunctioned, but when the consumers did not properly engage the quick-release.  When the company refused to recall the strollers, arguing that they were not defective, the CPSC brought a lawsuit to force a recall.  In the CPSC complaint, the agency argued that the strollers were defective because some consumers “may not read, may fail to follow or may misunderstand the instructions” on how to use the quick release. Importantly, the agency did not argue that the instructions were inadequate or confusing but instead that some failed to properly follow them and that this made the product defective. Under the CPSC’s theory, the potential for a consumer to misassemble or misuse a product, even with clear instructions and adequate warnings, is enough to render a product defective.  The story discounts the fact that the product also met all applicable safety standards.  If those standards are not adequate, the correct approach is to change the standard, not unilaterally declare products defective. (The three commissioners voting to bring suit did not suggest changing the standard, nor did the CPSC staff.) Injuries associated with consumer products are always very regrettable.  But those injuries, when they come from misuse of a product or failure to follow clear warnings and when the product meets all safety standards, should not, by themselves, necessarily render a product defective.

The story goes on to suggest that, upon assuming the chair, Acting Chairman Ann Marie Buerkle worked to withhold information about the investigation from her fellow commissioners.  That story-line does not comport with my experience as a CPSC commissioner.  All commissioners can meet with staff at any time—my own practice was to meet with the director of compliance on a weekly basis to be briefed about on-going investigations, and that was also the practice of other commissioners.  The staff, the majority of whom are dedicated career employees, do not withhold information from commissioners.  And while politics should not be an issue, it is worth noting that both the director of compliance and the executive director of the agency, two senior staffers who were necessarily involved with the matter, were appointed by an earlier President Obama-nominated chairman.  Finally, it must be remembered that the settlement of the case, which the Post faults, was negotiated by career staff and this was the recommendation put to the commission.

As I stated in my Letter to the Editor, Ann Marie Buerkle is very well qualified to be Chairman of the CPSC.  She is a medical professional (an important skill set no other commissioner has had), an experienced lawyer and a former Member of Congress.  She is the mother of 6 children and the grandmother of many—in other words, a real consumer.  Having served with Ms. Buerkle as a colleague on the Commission, I know that she listens to and carefully considers all arguments and information provided her before making decisions.

The real gravamen of the story is that there are those who do not agree with some of the votes that Acting Chairman Buerkle has made and that disagreement has spurred attacks on her character such as were made in the Post article.  However, policy disagreements should be debated at the policy level and those disagreements should not then be used to sully the reputation of a dedicated public servant.

 

 

 

 

 

)

 

 


Enter your email address to subscribe to my blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 975 other followers

Archives

RSS CPSC Breaking News & Recent Recalls

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

Let’s keep the conversation going on Twitter. You can find me at @NancyNord.

Nancy's Photos

  • 86,388 visits