Chairman Tenenbaum Keynote Address at ICPHSO Northwest in Seattle

CPSC's chairman talks about how CPSC is working proactively rather than reactively to protect consumers.
septiembre 19, 2013

Carol [Pollack-Nelson], thank you for that kind introduction. You have done such a great job of serving for so many years on the ICPHSO Board.  And now you are showing Presidential leadership by bringing this great training session to the Northwest, and sending everyone halfway around the world for the upcoming conference in Australia. ICPHSO is going places with you at the helm.

 

And next week, I am looking forward to hosting you, Carol, at a special event in Bethesda.

 

It is wonderful to see many familiar faces from yesterday’s outstanding CPSC Safety Academy, and I even see some familiar faces from last week’s North America Safety Summit in Ottawa.

 

We are having a busy and productive September at CPSC.

 

If this is your first time at an ICPHSO conference, you picked a great workshop to attend.

 

I thought that the big ICPHSO conference back in February was going to be my eighth and final one. 

But, here I am.  Back for number nine.

 

 

I don’t think I’m going to reach double digits, but I am quite proud of the relationship I have developed with the ICPHSO community during my tenure as Chairman.

And, I am quite proud of the work we have done at CPSC during these past four years to become the global leader in consumer product safety.

 

I am very appreciative of the staff at CPSC who worked exceptionally hard during my tenure to complete almost all of the major rules related to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

 

We have such a great team.

 

We have made the CPSC of today a very different agency from when I first joined the Commission in 2009.

Today, we are stronger, we are more proactive, and we are better at protecting those who need us the most.  

 

We are no longer operating in a state of crisis and reaction; instead, CPSC is working with the regulated community to inspire consumer confidence in the safety of the marketplace.

 

We continue to strengthen the product safety net and continue to make the new rules work as intended.

We are shifting from a focus on implementation of new rules to a focus on enforcement of new requirements that greatly enhance child safety.

 

We have hired nearly 175 new employees in the past three years, and we are now an agency with more than 500 diverse employees.

 

Our ranks are filled with new faces and new ideas.  Those new faces and new ideas to have taken us to new heights. 

 

First, we proved that we could fulfill our mission to its fullest; and then we proved that we could fulfill our vision to make CPSC an agency of global prominence. 

 

During my time with you today, I want to discuss three key areas:

  • First, the accomplishments of CPSC during the past four years;
  • Second, how we are transforming our role as a regulator;
  • And finally, what lies ahead for the next Chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

 

During the past four years, we have emphasized that CPSC stands for safety—and we have the record to prove it.

 

We created the world’s strongest crib safety standard and toy standard and established the lowest lead limits in the world.

 

We are taking aggressive action to address the disturbing number of incidents involving children ingesting the poisonous ingredients in liquid laundry packets. And, we have taken creative steps, along with manufacturers, to comprehensively address the chemical burn hazard resulting from children ingesting coin cell batteries.

 

We worked to make cordless window coverings more accessible to families with young children, and we contributed to the culture change in youth football that is making the game safer for the next generation of players.

 

Conducted thousands of in-depth product investigations, online investigations, and inspections of warehouses and thrift stores.

 

Opened our amazing National Product Testing and Evaluation Center, up in Rockville and our first foreign office in Beijing.

 

We formed an Office of Education, Global Outreach, and Small Business Ombudsman, which has provided direct assistance to small businesses, corporate attorneys, foreign governments, and foreign manufacturers. The companies you represent are among our most important stakeholders, and this office is focused on best serving all of you.

 

We have developed the Risk Assessment Methodology (or “RAM”) pilot program at U.S. ports and became even more effective in conducting import surveillance.  I will have more to say about this program shortly.

 

Launched the SaferProducts.gov database, which is CPSC’s most significant open government initiative.  This site receives more than 200,000 visits per month, and has more than 15,000 incident reports available for consumers to review.

 

Carried out nearly 50 Congressionally mandated rulemaking activities in four years, which is a record that I do not believe will ever be topped at the agency. 

 

We have staked our presence on multiple social media platforms. In fact, I am proud to share with you that earlier today, we launched on to Foursquare. At retail and thrift stores here in Seattle and in other cities, when consumers “check in” at the store on their smart phone, they will see safety tips from CPSC which will help them make smarter and safer choices with their purchases.  Foursquare can help us reach underserved consumers who frequently use their mobile phone, but do not think about use their phone to receive product safety information.

 

Positive change has taken hold. And, I believe the product safety system will continue to improve in the years to come.

 

Next, I would like to transition to some of the key areas which have accelerated our evolution into a firmer, but fairer regulator.

 

Leading off is our import surveillance program.

I’m really pleased that ICPSHO arranged for many of you to visit the Port of Seattle.  This is one of the best ports in the country, and our port investigators are doing great work out there.

 

Our port surveillance program works under the principle that any company—domestic or foreign—seeking to do business in our marketplace should adhere to the same performance standards. 

 

I believe that American businesses deserve a level playing field, because it is companies that you run and work with that are creating jobs and driving our economy.

 

Members of Congress had a similar vision when they passed the CPSIA into law.

 

The CPSIA directed us to create the Risk Assessment Methodology—commonly known as the RAM—to identify imported products that are most likely to be violative.

 

We followed this mandate and created a pilot RAM targeting system. The RAM integrates data from CPSC's internal systems with data collected by Customs and Border Protection.

 

The RAM pilot was aimed at early detection and targeting of high risk products and repeat offenders.

We want to achieve the full potential of this program, which would mean electronically analyzing 100 percent of incoming import line entries in our jurisdiction designated as high priority.

 

Two weeks ago, the Commission voted unanimously to approve our planned budget for fiscal year 2015. 

 

Within our budget submission, the Commission approved a four year plan that is aimed at greatly expanding the staffing and capabilities of our RAM program. 

 

CPSC is proposing to explore a user fee with OMB that, if implemented, could offset the cost of the proposed program of work. 

 

This is exciting news, and we want to work with the Administration, the Congress, CBP, and the trade to achieve this vision.

 

During my tenure as Chairman, exporters who do not achieve safety at the source have been put on notice that they face a CPSC that is increasingly standing guard on the front lines.  

 

As part of our RAM pilot program, well-trained port and field investigators are using state-of-the-art technology to detect and detain violative imports—from toys to fireworks to lighters to mattresses.

 

We have a strong partnership with CBP leadership and with CBP port inspectors.  We are proud to be collocated with them at the Commercial Targeting and Analysis Center in Washington and at select ports from coast to coast.  

 

Working together, CPSC and CBP staff prevented more than four million units of violative and hazardous imports from reaching store shelves during the last fiscal year.

But, as great a job as our import investigators do, we should not be limited to just 21 people working at select ports. 

 

We at CPSC cannot fight a fair fight with just 21 people to screen $700 billion worth of consumer products imports annually—$340 billion that come from China.  

The more eyes we have on incoming shipments and the more hands we have on potentially violative samples, the safer American consumers will be—and the more level the playing field will be for compliant trade.

 

Our pilot RAM program is proving to be a great success, but the lack of resources available for CPSC to conduct expanded import surveillance is just not acceptable from my point of view. It is not acceptable for industry, and it is not acceptable for CPSC.

 

CPSC’s presence at the ports represents about 0.05 percent of the number of FDA inspectors located at ports around the country, and we have a mandate equal in size.

 

We need more resources to do more inspections.

This is why we intend to seek additional support to expand our program, in the most cost effective manner possible.

 

I believe American families want the CPSC to be proactive in keeping dangerous products out of their homes, and compliant trade wants a level playing field against unscrupulous suppliers. 

 

That means inspecting significantly more consumer products at the ports than we do now.

 

A recently completed study by our Office of Import Surveillance demonstrated that the pilot RAM system was effective—effective in identifying violative and hazardous consumer products at ports of entry.

 

By also identifying low risk importers and manufacturers who supply consistently compliant products—which could include many of you in this room—CPSC can allow them reduced review at importation and facilitate the flow of legitimate trade.

 

These measures mean shorter port processing times, at ports like the one here in Seattle, and related cost savings to industry.

 

Preliminary results indicate that 90 percent of shipments were reviewed and released on the same day.

 

Let me repeat that: 90 percent of the shipments were reviewed and released on the same day.  Sounds good to me, and I bet that sounds good to you.

 

The RAM is a winning approach to ensure a level playing field for the trade and for ensuring that the products on store shelves comply with the product safety laws.

 

I think this a “win-win-win” for the Commission, for the trade, and for consumers.

 

Now, let’s talk for a few minutes about enforcement.

From day one, I said that I would be a firm, but fair, enforcer of the law. 

 

During the past four years, we have held the bad actors accountable and praised those who are putting the safety of their customers front and center.

 

During this past summer, you may have heard about the president of an import company who was sentenced to 22 months in federal prison for importing children’s products, including toys, which violated CPSC and other laws.

 

The toys—of Disney and Marvel characters and Major League Baseball players—contained lead and small parts that violated our standards and also violated counterfeiting statutes.

 

This criminal prosecution is another example of our effective working partnership with CBP, as well as with the Justice Department. 

 

Although we do not frequently pursue criminal sanctions, this case sends a message that those who willfully and repeatedly violate CPSC provisions could face significant consequences.

 

Also on the enforcement front, as might be expected, we are seeing more cases where the increased civil penalty provisions of CPSIA apply.

 

As a result, civil penalty amounts are increasing. 

For example, in late June, Ross Stores paid a $3.9 million civil penalty. This was a significant settlement that resolved charges that Ross knowingly failed to immediately report to CPSC that it sold or held for sale children’s upper outerwear with drawstrings.

 

Firms need to adjust their expectations in light of these higher civil penalty limits.


In addition to seeking higher civil penalties as authorized by CPSIA, in appropriate circumstances, the Commission also is looking to firms to take affirmative remedial actions to enhance compliance with consumer safety requirements.

 

This was the case in our penalties against Ross, and Williams-Sonoma, and Kolcraft.

  • In these circumstances, we have called upon firms to contractually commit to these remedial actions in our settlement agreements.
  • The settlement agreements included provisions addressing compliance programs and internal controls that relate to CPSC legal requirements. 
  • Depending on the facts and circumstances of a particular situation, other types of remedial actions may be appropriate, and may be included in settlement agreements to further protect consumers.
  • In this day and age, there is no good reason for manufacturers, importers, and distributors not to have effective internal controls and compliance programs. You should be doing everything possible up front, so that you are not faced with a recall down the road.

 

Administrative litigation is another enforcement tool that we have employed when our agency and outside parties could not come to a resolution—which is rare.

  • One example is the recently-announced settlement in the Nap Nanny infant recliner lawsuit, which resulted in protections for a very vulnerable population—infants.  The recall of all Nap Nanny products can be found on our website.  It is against the law to sell any of the Nap Nanny products subject to the recall.  That is good for the safety of babies.

 

Another area of attention is our statutes governing information dissemination. I am referring to Section 6(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act.

  • Consistent with my office’s emphasis on transparency, openness, and efficiency, the Commission has directed CPSC staff to present for Commission consideration updates to the 6(b) rules.
  • The staff’s proposal for amending the regulation is expected to reach the Commission any day.
  • The focus of staff’s work is expected to include:
    • eliminating unnecessary burdens;
    • enhancing transparency; and
    • improving agency efficiency and cost effectiveness, while adhering to the statutory 6(b) requirements.
  • Areas to be addressed by the staff more specifically include:
    • Taking advantage of new technology.  Communications were very different in 1983 when the rule was initially adopted. 

 

Staff is expected to consider updates to reflect advances in technology—for instance, to make notices more efficient and cost-effective. 

  • Agency efficiency. Based on the agency’s experience with administering the current 6(b) rule, staff is expected to consider streamlining the regulation to eliminate unnecessary administrative burdens and backlogs. 
  • Staff also has been directed to make certain that information submitted in Section 15 reports continues to be protected as required by the existing statutory provisions.

 

The final topic, I would like to discuss is what lies ahead for the next Chairman of the agency.

 

As I shared with the ICPHSO community back in February, I asked President Obama not to renominate me when my term ends.

 

I plan to stay on as Chairman, however, until my successor is nominated by the President, so that I can be sure that this great agency is in safe hands.

 

For the rest of my life, I will be grateful to President Obama for nominating me Chairman of the CPSC and for giving me the opportunity to serve in his administration.

 

It has been my great privilege to serve as Chairman, and the best part of my experience has been working with the many talented, dedicated professionals at the agency—and with the ICPHSO community.

 

There is still so much more that I want to accomplish during my remaining months.  This is why I am here today.  And, this is why I will be focusing on fire safety, baby safety, and leadership in safety next week.

 

We still have many projects that are ongoing and can save many lives.  Every week, I work with CPSC staff to move these projects forward. 

 

They include:

  • developing a strong, child protective safety standard for high powered magnet sets.
  • developing technology for portable gas generators that will give consumers more time to escape from a carbon monoxide poisoning incident;
  • improving the safety of off-road recreational vehicles;
  • and creating a mandatory flammability standard for upholstered furniture.

 

In addition to these staff projects, I believe that there are three areas that my office has shown leadership on, which the next Chairman can build upon.

 

These three areas are:

  • a new paradigm for working with voluntary, consensus standards organizations to collaboratively and quickly address a hazard—my office has used this model in the areas of gun locks and safes, adult portable bed rails, liquid laundry packets, and more;
  • taking safety to the source and emphasizing compliance by foreign manufacturers with U.S. safety rules; and
  • using education and outreach to help consumers understand the benefits of our new rules and to help businesses successfully comply with our rules.

 

It is remarkable what we have accomplished at CPSC during the past four years. And, I believe that even more achievements and advances in product safety are on the horizon.

 

CPSC has become more proactive and less reactive.  We have been committed to giving industry predictability, while also achieving consumer protection.

We have made a positive impact from the point of manufacture to major U.S. ports of entry to the domestic marketplace. 

 

Let’s continue to work together to give consumers even more confidence in the marketplace, even more confidence in the goods you make and sell, and create even safer homes for the next generation of consumers.

 

To Carol and the ICPHSO Board, congratulations once again on 20 fantastic years of being the organization that brings the product safety community together. 

And, thank you so much for the friendship and collegiality that we have developed during these past four years.

 

Thank you, everyone.