Thursday, February 24, 2011

CPSIA - ICPHSO Update on Compliance and Field Operations

Marc Schoem moderated a discussion involving four other heads of department (he is an acting department head, too):
  • Dean Woodard, Dir., Defect Investigation Div.
  • Mary Toro, Dir., Regulatory Enforcement Div.
  • Dennis Blasiua, Eastern District Div., Field Investigations Div.
  • Kathleen Lisius, Compliance Investigator, Import Surveillance Div (standing in for the director today).

DW: This division has four teams. Fast Track Recall program does not let you off the hook for reporting violations. It does avoid a "Preliminary Determination". This is a very "successful" and very "positive" program. Less bureaucracy and less "red tape". "Saves lives" and "limits your exposure" to whatever issues there may have been.

[RW: It is ALSO one of the most remarkably coercive programs administered by the CPSC. You are very often, if not always, given a short period of time to decide whether to participate. By "short", this could mean HOURS to decide. Hope you are always at the ready!]

MT: Four teams based on hazard. Four team leaders and 16 compliance officers. Different backgrounds on the team, lots of tech know-how and skills. This team does a lot of advising and gives a lot of guidance to industry. Have more than double the previous total of regulations that they have to enforce. Field staff goes out to do inspections. Develop field investigation programs for the year. Now MUST report under Section 15 for a violation of a mandatory standard. [Them's a lot of reports!] All such items also have a certification requirement.

DB - Does hundreds of inspections annually. Surveys, too. Visits to consumer homes and "no one leaves in handcuffs". [He said this in a joking manner.] Has roughly 100 investigations but gets tens of thousands of complaints annually. [RW: Now all that crap will go into the database. Can we see any issues here?] Emphasizes the politeness of his investigators. [RW: I appreciate this approach. I take him at his word.]

DB: Says we need to monitor the Internet for consumer complaints online. The CPSC is monitoring it so you better. Hmmm. DB says this may warrant investigation or spawn an investigation. More and more will send out investigators or ask for proof of destruction of recalled merchandise. Apparently, the re-export of recalled merchandise is up to Tim Geithner. [Fortunately, he's not too busy . . . .]

KL: Import Surveillance Div: Last year, not surprisingly, set a record of samples taken at port. 91% of the samples were violations, but only two products were recalled. Stopping at the port prevented the recalls. [This is interesting data. Are they clairvoyant or does everything coming into this country violate this godforsaken law in SOME way?] In apparel imports, the "first thing they look for" is drawstrings. Don't go there. . . .

Q&A: What if you disagree with the conclusions of your compliance officer? What are your due process rights?

MS: You are encouraged to call "up the chain". We are concerned to be responsive and want to know if you feel something is amiss.

60% of recalls come in under the Fast Track Recall program. In other words, this decision is made to pick up the "benefits" of the FTR program but also muddy the water about the state of the law on "substantial product hazards".

[RW: This is a total cop-out on the part of the agency and contributes significantly to the confusion on the workings of the law. In addition, the defects in the FTR program make everything worse. Marc Schoem admitted during Q&A that you often have only a DAY to decide whether or not to participate, which is inherently coercive. For most companies, unprepared for a federal agency descending on them with an "offer that you can't refuse" with an eight hour time limit, the pressure can be overwhelming. It is not unusual to get this "fine" offer before all relevant facts are known, and even when basically NO relevant facts are known. One wonders if the Shrek glasses recall was one such event. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil?]

Why call everything a "recall"? MS: We like the word "recall" and think it's most effective to "get the word out". [See Nancy Nord's blogpost from earlier today. The word also has tremendous under the CPSIA - perhaps Mr. Schoem's favorite word needs to be revisited since things have changed. It is also a tough word when there is litigation going on.]

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