Oversight of the Consumer Product Safety Commission
10:30 AM Dirksen Senate Office Building 562
- The Honorable Ann Marie Buerkle, Acting Chairman, Consumer Product Safety Commission
- The Honorable Robert Adler, Commissioner, Consumer Product Safety Commission
- The Honorable Dana Baiocco, Commissioner, Consumer Product Safety Commission
- The Honorable Peter Feldman, Commissioner, Consumer Product Safety Commission
- The Honorable Elliot Kaye, Commissioner, Consumer Product Safety Commission
*Witness list subject to change
Thursday, June 20, 2019
Subcommittee on Manufacturing, Trade, and Consumer Protection
This hearing will take place in the Dirksen Senate Office Building 562. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
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Chairman Jerry Moran
Chairman Jerry Moran
Good morning, and welcome to today’s oversight hearing of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Thank you to all the Commissioners for being here today as the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Manufacturing, Trade and Consumer Protection conducts its oversight of the CPSC. According to the Commission, deaths, injuries and property damage from incidents stemming from consumer products cost the nation more than $1 trillion per year.
The Commission has a broad mandate to protect consumers from unreasonable risks of injuries associated with more than 15,000 consumer products, including household products, toys, sporting goods and more.
The Commission was established by the Consumer Product Safety Act of 1972 as the jurisdictional independent agency charged with enforcing various federal statutes geared for protecting consumers.
Responsibilities of the Commission include: the development of manufacturing standards with the input of consumer advocates, academia and industry stakeholders; issuance of mandatory standards and bans on specific products, if necessary; administration of recalls on products that pose unnecessary risks to consumers and require repair when appropriate; extensive research into potential product hazards; and education of consumers to promote awareness in the consumer product space.
While the Commission does not have jurisdiction over certain consumer products, including tobacco, motor vehicles, pesticides, firearms, ammunition, aircraft, marine vessels, drugs, medical devices, cosmetics and food, their broad mandate requires calculated yet timely decision-making in order to provide necessary protections to Americans without unnecessarily harming businesses.
Central to the Commission’s function is its use of voluntary consumer product standards instead of the promulgation of mandatory requirements when appropriate. This approach allows the agency to have a collaborative working relationship with consumer advocacy groups, manufacturers, importers, retailers and other stakeholders, which increases the flow of information for timely, accurate and data-driven decisions related to risks posed towards consumers.
While the Commission is a relatively small agency, its influence is felt across the economy, and I look forward to hearing from the Commission about their critical initiatives and rulemaking agenda.
In 2017, this Subcommittee held a hearing to examine the effectiveness of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, which was enacted to enhance the safety of public and private pools and spas, reduce drownings and entrapment incidents, and educate the public on the importance of constant supervision of children in and around water.
While this law has certainly had a positive impact on improving pool safety at the national level, the Commission published a report this May indicating that the total number of drownings in 2016 was higher than the total number of drownings in 2015 – including instances involving young children. I hope the Commission will provide recommendation on what else needs to be done to prevent these tragic deaths.
The data-driven mission of the Commission and its efforts to keep pace with the increasingly technological economy will continue to be a critical aspect of the agency’s effectiveness. As unauthorized disclosures of confidential information continue to plague actors in both the private and public sectors, including the CPSC, heightened attention to ensuring that resources and staffing are effectively dedicated to protecting such information is necessary.
For these purposes, Ranking Member Blumenthal and I introduced the CPSC Chief Information Officer Parity Act, which will ensure that the agency’s top IT expert has a significant role in the Commission’s decision-making processes for budgetary and personnel purposes. Additionally, it would authorize the Commission to bring on a Chief Data Officer and Chief Technologist to support such efforts and protect the agency’s systems from vulnerabilities.
As the Fourth of July approaches, I would also like an update from the Commission on an issue we have discussed in this setting previously pertaining to fireworks devices.
Product safety is not a Republican or Democrat issue – it is something we all care about. I look forward to a productive discussion on how the Commission and this Subcommittee can further promote the welfare of consumers through thoughtful policymaking and partnerships.
Thank you to Acting Chairman Ann Marie Buerkle and Commissioners Robert Adler, Dana Baiocco, Peter Feldman and Elliot Kaye for speaking to the Subcommittee today on issues that directly impact our nation’s consumers.
Following Tuesday’s news of withdrawing her pending nominations, I would like to thank Acting Chairman Buerkle in particular for her dedicated public service on the Commission for the past six years. As the Acting Chairman for the past two and a half years, her leadership and engagement with this Subcommittee and all stakeholders has been commendable and led to many significant advancements in consumer product safety.
With that, I will turn to the Ranking Member so that he can make his opening statement.
Ranking Member Maria Cantwell
Ranking Member Maria Cantwell
Thank you, Chairman Moran, for holding this oversight hearing, and for the commission being here. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is a small federal agency with a huge mission. It is to be the cop on the beat when protecting consumers from potentially dangerous products. Time and time again, though, over the last two years, I’ve seen a pattern with the commission where it has deferred to the industry on critical product safety matters instead of being more aggressive as a commission.
From the get-go, almost all of the consumer commission’s pending product rulemakings were terminated. For instance, instead of setting mandatory standards for window blinds to protect kids from cord strangulation, the commission deferred to the industry to set its own standard. Another rule involved shut-off switches for portable generators, which are commonly used after power failures caused by hurricanes or winter storms that we often get in the Pacific Northwest. These generators propose a carbon dioxide poisoning risk, and again the commission nixed a mandatory standard and instead asked the Portable Generators Manufacturers’ Association to write their own standards.
But the failures have not just been with the safety standards intended to protect against dangerous products. Also, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has essentially stopped imposing civil penalties on manufacturers. The commission’s most basic mission is to protect consumers from dangerous products, and I think two recent examples highlight a trend that I think is very problematic.
The first involved the BOB jogging stroller. The Consumer Product Safety Commission career staff found a serious defect in the stroller that allowed the front wheel to detach unexpectedly. Those wheel detachments resulted in serious injuries to scores of adults and children. The commission staff recommended a recall, and some on the commission voted to move forward with a lawsuit against the manufacturer, but instead the commission sought a settlement with the company that resulted in little more than a public safety campaign and provided certain consumers with replacement parts. Other consumers with older models got nothing more than a 20% coupon on the stroller. So this agreement allowed the company to say that these corrective amount only to an information campaign when so much was at risk for families.
The second involved the Fisher-Price Rock and Play Infant Sleeper. According to the consumer products report, almost 35 infant deaths have been associated with this product since 2009, but the commission did not reveal this information until Consumer Reports blew the whistle and brought it to the public. So who knows how many more children could have been impacted. And even if the product was recalled, the commission found a way to continue to fail the consumer when the commission’s recall notice listed just “refund” as the remedy for consumers that return the Rock and Roll Play. So consumers with the older Rock and Roll Play Sleepers will only get a voucher for another. And so this is very problematic.
We have a tradition on the committee of working together to enact bipartisan legislation to help protect consumers and the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush, gave the Consumer Product Safety Commission substantial new authority to protect consumers. So going forward I hope that the White House will put forth names of people to be on the commission that are going to use the authority, and put American consumers and our children first, when protecting them with these laws.
I thank the chairman. I look forward to hearing from the commissioners.
The Honorable Ann Marie BuerkleActing ChairmanConsumer Product Safety Commission
The Honorable Robert AdlerCommissionerConsumer Product Safety Commission
The Honorable Dana BaioccoCommissionerConsumer Product Safety Commission
The Honorable Peter FeldmanCommissionerConsumer Product Safety Commission
The Honorable Elliot KayeCommissionerConsumer Product Safety Commission