Monday, April 12, 2010

CPSIA - Broken Record . . . Does Anyone Care Anymore?

Misallocated safety resources - I have made the point again and again, that the misconceived CPSIA diverts limited resources away from real safety issues and lards them on bureaucratic exercises unlikely to produce safety results. [A pile of safety reports up to the sky does not constitute "results", btw.] This misallocation is not restricted to private companies - it also adversely impacts the CPSC. As they say, there are only so many hours in the day, even with an annual budget of $118 million.

The back-up in work at the CPSC is part of the untold story of the CPSIA. Certainly the zealots do not want to expose the damage done by their favorite law to this proud agency. The fantasy goes like this: if the CPSC isn't acting, there isn't anything to act on. Ergo if recalls go down, we must be safer - because the all-knowing CPSC is everywhere, instantly processing data, and recalling everything that is "bad". If you believe that fairy tale, I have a bridge to sell you, or perhaps some lovely swamp land. This fantasy was on display in the recent hearing on the public database in which absurd promises were made about timely agency review of database postings. The agency's inability to keep up with the data flow, probably from day one, will turn the database into a national commercial slander bulletin board. Among other things, this is because there aren't and will never be enough hands on deck to manage the work flow with good quality control and concern for truth.

Some recent evidence of misallocated resources was provided by the General Accounting Office in their April 2010 report to Congressional Committees entitled "ALL-TERRAIN VEHICLES: How They Are Used, Crashes, and Sales of Adult-Sized Vehicles for Children’s Use". Remember, it is almost inevitable that misallocated safety resources will lead to disaster, just as driving while taking your eyes off the road invites tragedy. Tragedy . . . you heard it here first.

The GAO report notes:

"[ATV industry] officials said they are taking actions to prevent the sale of adult-sized ATVs for use by children and Commission staff said they have taken steps to ensure compliance . . . . Since 1998, Commission staff have conducted undercover inspections of ATV dealers, by posing as buyers, to check compliance with the age recommendations. Nevertheless, compliance rates of the ATV dealers that Commission staff checked decreased from 85 percent in 1999 to 63 percent in 2007 . . . . A Commission compliance official said no undercover inspections of dealers had been conducted since early 2008 because Commission staff were focused on preparing to implement the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, but that inspections will be resumed in the future. . . .

Because Commission staff had not conducted any undercover inspections of dealers since 2008 and because the number of new entrants in the marketplace that had not been checked (as of February 2010, 37 companies had ATV action plans authorizing them to sell ATVs in the United States, compared with 8 companies in 2008), we conducted undercover operations of selected dealers to check whether dealers were willing to sell adult-sized ATVs for use by children under the age of 16. . . . The dealers who were willing to sell adult-sized ATVs for use by children included retailers that sold ATVs made by the traditional manufacturers and new market entrants as well as those that sold a single brand and a variety of brands. In some cases, sales staff subtly and in other cases blatantly admitted that they should not be selling adult-sized ATVs for use by a 13-year-old, but would do so anyway. In addition, one dealer we visited was selling ATVs manufactured by a company without an ATV action plan." [Emphasis added]

I quote from this report not to indict ATV'rs. Some bad apples will be in every barrel, so almost any market sweep will turn up something. In this case, however, the GAO confirms that the CPSC has been in a two year nap induced by the CPSIA. And the nap isn't over, either.

This problem explains why, in a recent conversation, a CPSC staffer referred to the agency as the Children's Product Safety Commission (that's not its name!). Something has been diverted or polluted in its mission by the CPSIA.

I feel we are sliding down this slippery slope to the doom of the critical market for children's products. After two years of whining, I must sound like a broken record. That said, the CPSIA implementing rules aren't survivable and with full implementation now just months away, there's almost no time left to do anything about it. I have not yet explained in this space the so-called 15 Month Rule to be discussed this week in Thursday morning's Commission meeting. When the time comes, you will get a strong sense of what a railroad job this entire process has been. The priority has been irretrievably shifted to paper pushing. The strictures imposed by the testing zealots will snuff out many businesses - or send us all underground.

Consumers will suffer and so will your business. We will see more collapses and will see markets go under-served. You were warned.


Sebastian said...

Thank you for being a broken record. We homeschool and a box in the corner of our dining room holds a variety of math manipulatives that I've used for my three kids.
The current law will make many of these item unavailable, either because we can no longer to afford the post testing price (not having a school budget to fall back on) or because manufacturers will no longer be interested in producing items like Rainbow Fractions, Linking Cubes, frog counters or base ten blocks.
There is a real problem of trying to legislate risk out of our lives. In the process, we create a milk toast world where there is less reward and achievement. All it takes is a side by side look at US and European playgrounds.
Keep the record playing

Anonymous said...

Rick -- I just want to know that we are listening and we are trying to help keep the momentum going on this fight. Inspired by your comments and detailed analysis, we have submitted our concerns about the Waxman Amendment, the public database and other CPSIA issues to our government affairs representatives and trade group (one who is not currently engaged in the CPSIA fight, but will be soon). Sometimes it might seem to you that you are spitting into the wind, but please know that there are many of us out here who need your insight, analysis and access just to understand what is really going on. Your comments will be vindicated, especially on the CPSC public database issue.