An interesting op-ed in last week’s Wall Street Journal pointed to how the regulatory process impedes efforts called for by President Obama, among others, to shore up this country’s infrastructure. The piece, written by Philip Howard, President of the nonpartisan reform group Common Good, focused on how interminable environmental review can stymy public projects and made several interesting suggestions for change.
As I read Mr. Howard’s article, I could not help but think about how the regulatory process has been used at the CPSC to slow activity, mandated by Congress and required by common sense, to reform the product testing regime dictated by CPSC regulations. Recall that the testing rules setting the parameters for when products must be tested by independent third party testing labs imposed such impressive costs on the system that Congress told the agency to find ways to reduce those costs. That was in 2011. As we head into 2014, the agency has managed to avoid adopting any concrete relief to those who are now required to conduct unnecessary and expensive testing. The Commission has done this by repeatedly asking for public comment on the same questions over and over again.
Last week the Commissioners met to adopt an operating plan for the rest of FY 2014. Predictably, the issue of reducing testing burdens came up and, predictably, the Commissioners again punted. This time, the agency staff was directed to finish their analysis of the public comments on a limited set of suggestions for relief by the end of FY 2014. A majority of Commissioners rejected the notion of asking Congress for statutory changes suggested by the agency staff to make operation and review of safety processes more efficient. Clearly, a majority of CPSC Commissioners do not see reducing unnecessary testing burdens as a core duty of the agency.
It is remarkable that for the past three years, product manufacturers have been conducting expensive testing that most (outside of a handful of advocates with a political agenda and several CPSC Commissioners) do not see as necessary to assure the safety that American families rightly expect. That those families have to shoulder the costs of this added weight to the system seems to be a forgotten fact. I know that I have written about this issue before. But as a consumer, I am mad. I am mad that my choices are being limited and that, for example, I cannot buy beloved toys that are safe but are no longer being imported only because of the CPSC testing rules. I am mad that I have to overpay for safety regulations of questionable value.
Rather than blindly defending regulations that are costing consumers without advancing safety, the CPSC should give them a thanksgiving gift: how about getting down to work and stopping the procrastination on this. It is time for big strides, not baby steps.