Consumer Safety, Consumer Schmafety
No, "CPSC" does not stand for "Corporate Pandering Stool-pigeon Commission," or even the more reserved Consumer Product Sales Commission, although good sense and rational thinking could very well lead people to think so given recent events. Nancy Nord, Acting Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, wrote a letter opposing federal legislation that would increase the agency's budget and impose tougher standards against violators of CPSC safety standards.
So, let's get this straight: the head of the CPSC--with its desperately strained budget, dwindling staff, and recent embarrasments in ineffective regulation--who is in charge of making sure the agency is living up to its purpose and design, is saying "no thanks" to more money and more measures that would encourage manufacturers to abide by its standards for protecting the public. In essence, she wrote a letter opposing legislation that would help her do her job better. Talk about a Negative Nancy (definition #3)!
Her letter can be accessed here. In it, she argues that the obligations placed upon the agency to implement the new legislation are burdensome, and that giving state attorneys general a cause of action against corporations that violate CPSC standards would result in lack of uniformity on product regulations acoss the states. Of course, this argument ignores the role CPSC laws have in setting the "floor" of acceptable product safety standards, while leaving room for states to hike their standards up to the ceiling in order to better protect its residents.
Some of her letter is quite thoughtful and reasonable--for instance, her concerns about requiring the CPSC itself to administer whistleblower hearings between companies and their ex-employees. But much of the letter smells of pro-business bias. For instance, her opposition to the civil penalty cap increase to one that creates a real incentive to not violate CPSC standards.
The proposed legislation would send the agency's current budget through the roof. According to the NY, it "would more than double the agency’s budget, to $141 million, over the next seven years, raise staffing levels by about 20 percent, and give the commission broad new powers to police the marketplace. It would raise the cap on the maximum penalties to $100 million, from $1.8 million."
Also according to the New York Times:
"She was critical, for instance, of a provision to ban lead from all toys, saying it was not practical. She said that the proposal to raise the potential penalty to $100 million “may have the undesired consequence of firms, as a precautionary measure, flooding the agency with virtually every consumer complaint and incident.” She also criticized a provision that would give state prosecutors the authority to enforce the federal consumer safety laws.
Well, I guess I'm only disappointed, not surprised. After all, this is the Bush administration's schtick right now--deregulating big business through federal preemption and other efforts, while at the same time justifying agency inadequacies (like here, where she argues that the CPSC's budget and staffing may be short and these limitations may impact its efficacy, but it's an okay bargain on the public's health and safety).
****UPDATE**** (Nov 7 '07)
Nord issued a statement regarding her letter here, where a link to her letter can be found. (Sorry about the broken link--other blogs have been having the same problem).
A thoughtul response on her statement can be found here.
Also see this Washington Post article, "Industries Paid for Top Regulators' Travel"--to places like China and Spain.