Consumer Product Safety Commission in Post-Election Government: Restraint and Moderation is Required by All Sides
We have had a huge election result, perhaps the most significant in our lifetime, potentially even exceeding what was called the Reagan Revolution. It is critical, particularly for anybody from Washington DC, to have a great deal of modesty and humility in prognosticating the future under the Trump administration even in the Consumer Product Safety Commission world. We assume, but really do not know, what the attitudes of the new Trump administration and the Republican-led Congress will be in our parochial, but critical, little product safety world.
We can understandably assume that within a year or less there will be a new CPSC Chairman and a new Republican majority on the Commission. We can also assume that this will change the direction and substance of many regulatory initiatives and maybe even some of the approaches to compliance and civil penalties.
Though we may be unsure about the future, I can say confidently that what we badly need from the outgoing Democratic majority and the yet to be defined incoming Republican majority is some perspective, restraint, and Aristotelian moderation. I hope that the current majority commissioners will not take advantage of their present but fleeting power to push through ill-conceived regulatory or compliance and enforcement initiatives. Such actions will be bitterly opposed and this Commission’s reign will end on a sour note and be subject to regulatory and congressional reversal.
On the other hand, all five of the current commissioners swore to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the United States. Those laws absolutely include CPSIA and other governing statutes of the CPSC. So the Commissioners need to, and I am confident that they will, continue to do their jobs.
There are some very important initiatives which will enhance safety and not be politically controversial. For example, I welcome Chairman Kaye’s interest in a comprehensive and interagency review of the lithium ion battery problem. We do not need to have any more spectacular safety problems to recognize that even without hoverboards and cell phones catching on fire, the increasing use and push-the-envelope application of products which use lithium ion batteries is causing lots of problems.
Indeed, the situation with respect to lithium ion batteries is even worse for smaller companies which don’t have vertical integration, don’t design batteries or battery packs, don’t have much control over their vendors, and basically have to take solutions off the shelf. Everybody in the product safety community will benefit from figuring out what combination of standards, practices, and designs we need to protect the public and thousands of businesses.
Nevertheless, the business community and the future leaders of the CPSC need to show some restraint as well. It would be a mistake to take advantage of the present politics to fundamentally reverse the key elements of the Consumer Product Safety Act, to strangle the agency with inadequate funding, or tie the agency up in knots so it cannot adequately function. This is a formula for exponentially increasing an already problematic patchwork of state and local government regulation of consumer products. It would also potentially allow for cheap, unsafe imports to flood our country and undermine significant business safety investments already made by U.S. companies.
This does not mean that nothing should be done or that the statute shouldn’t be revisited in some regards. There are plenty of ways the business community can achieve meaningful regulatory improvements and burden relief that would not cause larger issues.
I do not support crippling the CPSC. No members of industry that I have spoken with support such drastic action either. It will not be in the long term benefit of the business community and it leaves American consumers, our families and friends, less protected.
I’ve been involved in the product safety world for 30-plus years and have seen the political pendulum swing on multiple occasions. One constant is that most reasonable, informed people, whether business executives or consumer advocates, agree that a well-functioning CPSC is a critical part of a vibrant economy for consumer products in this country.