Outside editorial: More safeguards

Posted: Sunday, March 02, 2008

The following editorial appeared in the Washington Post:

I n the coming days, the Senate will be tasked with salvaging a badly discredited agency: the Consumer Product Safety Commission. After last year's repeated recalls of unsafe toys and consumer panic over just about everything coming out of China (which covers a lot), the House in December unanimously passed a bill to modernize the agency and increase its funding. The Senate's most recent companion bill, which will probably be voted on next week, in several ways would even better equip the CPSC to deal with the new demands of the global marketplace and rightly restore consumers' faith in the things they buy.

The bill would do several very good things: It would authorize a gradual increase in the agency's funding - stripped down over the past decade - to $155.9 million in fiscal 2015 from $63 million in fiscal 2007. It would introduce new safeguards, including tighter limits on lead in toys and other products, and mandatory independent testing of goods before they go to market.

The bill also would allow the commission to more quickly disclose verified product safety risks to consumers and require it to disclose all consumer safety complaints in a public database. Both the commission and industry have grumbled about the latter disclosure requirement, but if properly labeled with the disclaimer that complaints have not yet been investigated by the agency, the database would help disseminate potential safety concerns more quickly and without confusion. A similar database, run by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, already exists for vehicle safety complaints.

The commission and manufacturers have also complained about new authority the legislation would give to state attorneys general to monitor and address safety hazards, as well as new protections that would be afforded whistleblowers in manufacturing. Like the consumer complaints database, however, these changes would promote transparency, oversight and general good behavior. By passing this bill, the Senate would re-empower an agency that has struggled to confront the growing global marketplace's unknown consumer product risks.

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