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.
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.