Monday, January 11, 2010

CPSIA - Recommended Non-Legislative Changes

As promised, I wanted to provide my list of non-legislative changes to accompany my list of CPSIA changes. I have repeatedly called for effective process and resource allocation to bring about results. I do not share the view that draconian penalties and super-low standards are the answer - something else, something more "human" is needed to get better outcomes. So I conclude that changes to the law alone won't work. The agency needs to rethink its priorities and its way of interacting with the market to reduce injuries in the long term.

As a preface, it's important to note the following:

a. My suggestions for legislative and non-legislative changes will have NO material negative impact on safety. It is my fervent hope and intention that these changes will improve results for the agency.

b. It is critical that the agency be well-functioning after amendment of the law. In my legislative changes, I have placed a priority on cleaning up purposeless complexity and tasks that are not critical to the mission of supervising safety. It is essential the CPSC have a set of ordered priorities – because if everything is important, nothing is important. In my non-legislative changes, I propose prioritized resource allocations to improve focus on real drivers of behavior.

c. I believe the agency must reestablish a basic sense of what is safe and what is not safe. Judging from recent decisions of the Commission and recent recalls, I think the line between “safe” and “unsafe” has become blurred. Being careful about safety does NOT imply a fear of “everything”. I have tailored my legislative recommendations to focus in on REAL safety risks – only. In my non-legislative recommendations, I have focused on resource allocation, outreach/education and better communication with the regulated community, striving for constructive dialogue rather than behind-the-curve reactivity.

My list of non-legislative changes:

  • Liaison office to manage Q&A with regulated companies. “No name” inquiries should be permitted. This office should be staffed adequately to ensure timely replies.
  • Amnesty program – if a regulated entity turns itself in before it is notified that it is being investigated, the regulated party may NOT be penalized.
  • Industry Outreach/Education – as a TOP priority, the CPSC must create an educational outreach program to sensitize industry to safety issues and to educate regulated companies on their legal obligations and on good safety practices. This office should operate independently of enforcement staff or activities. On-site training should be offered for free.
  • The CPSC website should be reworked to meet best standards for access to information. The current website is quirky and difficult to navigate.
  • The agency should reexamine its allocation of resources according to severity of threat, and then reorganize its assets in line with threat priorities. Threat level teams should be separately staffed and tasked, with timeliness of processing a top priority. If resources are allocated properly, the concept of a “queue” can be abandoned in favor of objective expectations on how threats are processed by the agency. The teams should be resourced independently, as though they were separate agencies (e.g., the "high threat" team would have different lab resources than the "medium threat" team).
  • Industry self-regulation should again become the principal strategy of the agency to manage markets.

I recommend that all of my legislative and non-legislative changes be implemented to reduce the administrative burden of regulating the affected markets and to improve the effectiveness of the agency's activities. The overly broad and unrealistic demands of the CPSIA made inevitable the observed diminishing impact of the CPSC. By eliminating many unnecessary standards, bureaucracy and supervisory activities (totally eliminating vast amount of work for both agency and regulated community), focus may be restored to the task of keeping kids safe. This will result in GREATER safety, certainly not increased injuries.

The task of properly allocating resources within the agency to bring about good results in the marketplace is far more important than having draconian rules on the books. With the scheme I recommend above, the CPSC would be in the optimal position to focus on real threats and to buttress safety against evolving threats. A revitalized agency focusing on high impact activities and structured to respond quickly and insightfully against emerging threats will make the CPSC a model agency within the Federal government.

It can be done . . . with some courage, some vision and a sense of conviction. The time is NOW.


Paul said...

Despite the fact that CPSC should be an INDEPENDENT regulatory agency, I can understand there are concerns where the agency's hands are being tied by the politics in this real world.

But there is just no excuse for the CPSC not to make operation changes that will improve the agency's effectiveness and efficiency in serving this nation.

cmmjaime said...

Those in support of the current CPSIA mistake something that is now illegal as the equivalent of something being unsafe. Rick does a great job of showing how the two are not the same!

I have several old children's books on display at my shop with a sign that says "Dangerous Books". Most of my customers understand the point that I am making, but every once in awhile I get someone in who believes it, who really think that if they are illegal they must also be unsafe.

After almost a year, I still have signs throughout the store that say "Empty shelves courtesy of Congress and the CPSIA". And after almost a year, I'm still having to explain those to people.

Where is the outcry about this law and the damages it is doing...outside of our little corner of the internet? How do most of the media folks still ignore it?

Thank you, Rick, once again, for speaking sanely about an insane law. I fully agree, the time is NOW!