Saturday, April 3, 2010

CPSIA – Waxman Amendment, Tenenbaum and “Openness”

Everyone knows that the CPSC under Chairman Inez Tenenbaum is all about openness and transparency, right? She told us about her closely held principles of open government again and again. [If there is any doubt, see below for her many public statements on this topic. I probably missed more than a few, too – please forgive me.] Apparently, this is part of her plan to restore confidence in the CPSC.

Let’s not obsess over her vote with the self-proclaimed “Prince of Darkness”, Commissioner Bob Adler, to prevent a public discussion by the five CPSC Commissioners of the controversial January 15 report to Congress. I am sure she was really trying to be open, but I must be too dumb to understand it.

And then there is the Waxman Amendment 2.0. The anti-business sleight of hand in the pending law has been much discussed in this space. The Waxman Amendment is quite provocative. Many groups have submitted comments to Waxman’s staff, as well as two Commissioners (Nord and Northup). Or is it four Commissioners?

I have reported that Tenenbaum and Adler submitted joint comments on the Waxman Amendment. Their letter was apparently not signed. The only place you can find it, to my knowledge, is in my blog. I believe that senior CPSC officials who asked Ms. Tenenbaum's office for a copy of it were REFUSED. Is that “open” and “transparent”? You be the judge. By the way, you weren't supposed to see it, either.

I am told Ms. Tenenbaum previously submitted a secret list to Waxman of 20 changes she wanted in the law, but this document never surfaced. On March 23, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to disclose this and other documents relating to these Commissioners' interactions with Congress on this bill and finally received an acknowledgement from the CPSC on April 1. No joke. Yet I have not received any documents to date. The Tenenbaum and Adler letter is still a thing of mystery.

And now I understand that in response to press inquiries about the mystery comment letter, the CPSC is admitting the authorship of the two Democrats. No explanation is being given for the secrecy, nor for its absence from the CPSC website.

How very transparent. Is this building your confidence in fairness and openness at the CPSC? Perhaps this is the new Washington Mr. Obama is installing. No more business as usual!

Mr. Nixon would be so proud. I wonder if there is an enemies list, too. . . .

In chronological order, the remarks of Ms. Tenenbaum on transparency and openness (emphasis added):

[I particularly like nos. 6 and 12, btw.]

1. [This one is from the agency itself, but it's a good warm-up.] U.S. CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY COMMISSION INFORMATION QUALITY GUIDELINES :

"CPSC also achieves transparency through wide dissemination of its information. Most reports and other data products are available both as printed and electronic documents. They are announced on the CPSC web site and most electronic versions can be accessed and downloaded directly from the web site."

2. Inez Tenenbaum Sworn In As New Chairman of U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, July 9, 2009:

"Ms. Tenenbaum identified three major areas of focus for her common sense approach to serving as Chairman. 'First, I want CPSC to be more accessible and transparent to parents and consumers. By creating an electronic database of product incident reports that consumers can search and by collaborating with state and local agencies and consumer groups, we can give the public confidence that CPSC is working openly and in their best interest,' she stated."

3. Testimony of Inez M. Tenenbaum Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation United States Senate, June 16, 2009:

"Consistent with the President Obama’s approach to governance, if confirmed as Chairman, I will ensure that the Commission is operated in an open, transparent, and collaborative way and in a manner worthy of the American people. . . . If confirmed, I commit to you that under my leadership the Commission will operate in an open, fair, and evenhanded manner and will invite participation by the public, consumer advocacy organizations, and industry."

4. Remarks of Chairman Inez Tenenbaum at APEC Regulator Dialogue on Toy Safety, August 1, 2009:

"Enforcement is actually one of my three top priorities as Chairman, along with government transparency and consumer education and advocacy."

5. Statement of Inez Tenenbaum Chairman U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Before the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection “The Consumer Product Safety Commission: Current Issues and a Vision for the Future”, September 10, 2009:

"In my first two months leading the CPSC, I have focused on three key goals: transparency and openness to those we serve; a renewed focus on education and advocacy to all American consumers; and fair, but firm enforcement of the product safety laws we oversee."

6. Chairman's Welcome for CPSC 2.0 Press Releases # 09-346, September 22, 2009 (transcript):

"Hello, I'm Inez Tenenbaum, Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. In my first hours as Chairman, I spoke frankly to families and consumers across the country. I said that as the leader of this important safety agency, I was committed to creating an open and transparent CPSC. We have kept our word."

7. Chairman Tenenbaum's Speech at AHAM’s Product Safety and Liability Conference, Washington, DC, October 12, 2009:

"I have said this previously and I want to be clear with all of you - I support the creation of the database, as I believe it furthers the vision of creating a more transparent CPSC and a more informed consuming public."

8. Chairman Inez Tenenbaum's Keynote Address, 3rd CPSC-AQSIQ Safety Summit, Wuxi, China, October 21, 2009:

"The spirit of cooperation and dialogue with which we are opening this Summit reflects the philosophy that I have as a regulator. I embrace open government, information sharing with all stakeholders, and a commitment to finding mutual interests."

9. Chairman Inez Tenenbaum, Keynote Address, ICPHSO/International Cooperation on Product Safety, Toronto, Canada, October 28, 2009:

"With the passage of CPSIA, the proposed product safety legislation introduced here in Canada, , it is more important than ever for industry, consumer groups, and government to work together. We must assure that there is a transparent and fair handling of the vast responsibilities we are being given. Serving as the Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission puts me in a position to oversee a reshaping of consumer product safety issues affecting the global community, and I take my responsibilities seriously."

10. CPSC Chairman Inez M. Tenenbaum Keynote Address via Video Recording, APEC Toy Safety Initiative Open Dialogue on Toy Safety, January 12, 2010 – Hong Kong:

"I am as committed to transparency as I am to enforcement and as we go forward, I hope all of you will work closely with us through our comments process and open proceedings. It is essential that we find common ground through dialogue on 'building safety into toys and children’s products.'”

11. CPSC Chairman Inez M. Tenenbaum TIA International Toy Fair, February 15, 2010 – New York:

"I am as committed to transparency as I am to enforcement and as we go forward, I hope all of you will work closely with us through our comments process and open proceedings."

12. Chairman Tenenbaum ICPHSO Keynote Address, February 17, 2010 – Washington, DC:

"As many of you have heard me say before, I am a believer in open government. It is integral to the Administration's efforts to change the culture in Washington, and I believe it is integral to changing perceptions of the CPSC. Over these past months, I have made the Commission as accessible to the public as any time in its history. At the same time, I have made myself accessible to both industry and consumer groups. I will continue to have an open door in the years ahead."

13. Chairman Tenenbaum JPMA Summit Keynote Address, March 9, 2010 - Washington, DC:

"After a tumultuous 2007 and 2008, we made 2009 a year of change at CPSC:
• change that brought new staff and new thinking,
change that brought new partners and a return to openness, and
• change that has brought renewed confidence to parents."

14. Chairman Tenenbaum Consumer Federation of America Keynote Address, March 11, 2010 – Washington, DC:

"After a tumultuous 2007 and 2008, we made 2009 a year of change at CPSC:
• change that took us from having only 385 employees in 2008 to having more than 500 in 2010 - and we are still hiring - our goal is to reach 530,
change that brought new powers and a return to openness . . . ."

15. Chairman Tenenbaum AAFA Executive Summit, Friday, March 12, 2010 - Washington, DC:

"After a tumultuous 2007 and 2008 – we made 2009 a year of change at CPSC:
• change that brought new staff and new thinking as we grow from 385 employees in 2008 to 530 by the end of this year,
change that brought new partners and a return to openness . . . .

Over these past months, I have made the Commission as accessible to the public as any time in its history. Our public meetings are online – you can watch our Commission meetings every Wednesday morning, -- we have hosted public workshops to collect input from the public on major issues and our staff members are presenting useful information to groups like this around the country. At the same time, I have made myself accessible to associations like AAFA and to consumer groups. I will continue to have an open door in the years ahead."


Steven N Levy said...

It really is a shame. If the policy comments and remarks that the commissioners put forward have merit then they should be made available for public review. The only reason I could see for the secrecy would be if those working to hide the comments do not feel that the ideas put forward could withstand the public scrutiny and would like like policy to be changed or affected anyway. Governemt by fiat.

Ben said...

According to the 2009 FOIA annual report the CPSC filed, the median response time was 10 days for "simple requests" and 68 days for "complex requests". Here's a link to the report.

I'm guessing yours would be catagorized as a complex request but since you requested fast track because of pending legislation, I'm not sure how fast that moves things up.

halojones-fan said...

If CPSC works anything like FDA and the rest of the bureaucracy, then there's no reason for them to actually stick to a schedule. "68 days" is just the time to a reply of any kind, including "we aren't ready, try again in another 68 days", or "your request wasn't properly formatted so we don't need to respond", or my personal favorite "oh, uh, I, uh, lost that email? I didn't get it? And then I found it? But it's only sixty-eight days from when I originally start working on the request which didn't happen until yesterday?"