CPSIA Update: A Confirmation Hearing, Singapore and Toys

By August 5, 2009General, Regulations

The Senate Commerce Committee holds a confirmation hearing today at 10 a.m. for three nominees: Dennis Hightower, Deputy Secretary, Department of Commerce; and Robert Adler and Anne Northup to be members of the Consumer Product Safety Committee. Based solely on the agenda, we’d assume Mr. Hightower goes first, and then the CPSC candidates go afterward. So it might be 10:30 a.m. before the Committee gets to Northup and Adler.

If the committee shows the hearing via the Internet, we’ll watch and report.

Elsewhere, the CPSC has posted the text of Chairman Inez Tenenbaum’s Aug. 1 speech to the APEC Regulator Dialogue on Toy Safety held in Singapore, her first major substantive speech since confirmation.

In the Washington world, these kinds of inaugural remarks are read with extra care for signs of a new regulator’s philosophy and tone.

For that audience, we’d say Tenenbaum’s cautious endorsement or regulatory harmonization was of interest, but especially her brief discussion of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act’s mandate of “the long-standing, comprehensive set of voluntary global toy standards used in the U.S. and some other economies – known as ASTM F963.” 

For domestic manufacturers, the news was her reaffirmation throughout the speech of the role of the CPSC as a regulator and enforcer. For example:

My regulatory philosophy embraces open dialogue, information sharing with all stakeholders, and a commitment to finding mutual interests. When a law has been passed by U.S. legislators or a new regulation has been established by CPSC, however, it becomes the law of the land. As CPSC’s chief regulator, I will ensure that our requirements are enforced vigorously and fairly.

Enforcement is actually one of my three top priorities as Chairman, along with government transparency and consumer education and advocacy.

One infers: If Congress passes a law that puts people out of business with no safety benefits to the consumer, the CPSC will be there to enforce that law. Surely.

If Congress passes a law? Congress has passed a law that’s putting people out of business, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

Regulators do not exist to create policy, but they can and should inform the policymaking branch of government, Congress, of the consequences of the laws it has passed. If the law cannot be reasonably enforced, a regulator should say so. Chairman Tenenbaum’s speech had very little of that.

Perhaps that message will be communicated through staff and personal meetings up on Capitol Hill. One hopes.

One way to communicate the message publicly is under the rubric of “consumer advocacy.” As noted above, Tenenbaum cites consumer education and advocacy as one of her three priorities for her chairmanship. Well, consumers have clearly not been well served by the CPSIA, which has forced the withdrawal of pre-1985 children’s books, discarding of used children’s clothing and toys, and the banning of youth-sized ATVs, bicycles and other products.

If that Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act is removing safe consumer products from the marketplace, consumers are being deprived of safe choices. As a “consumer advocate,” a CPSC commissioner should surely make that point to Congress.

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