DRI Keynote Address - Wednesday, April 7, 2010, Las Vegas, NV

abril 07, 2010

Thank you so much John [Kuppens] for your gracious introduction. It’s great to be here with all of you in Las Vegas. I traveled out here today because my staff told me there were a few recalls that needed to be negotiated.

 

In all seriousness, John, I appreciate you and Cary [Hiltgen] inviting me to attend this conference. All of you who make up the Defense Bar are key stakeholders to CPSC – you help us operate in a manner that is consistent with what our statutes call for and you pursue fair treatment for your clients.

 

I worked with many Bar members during my years at Sinkler & Boyd and The McNair Law Firm in South Carolina. And my legal counsel, Matt Howsare, who has joined me here today, used to work at Nelson Mullins.

 

We may not always agree about the risk of injury posed by a particular product or how much a particular civil penalty should be, but we acknowledge your role in advocating for your client. And we understand the impact of CPSC’s work on product liability cases.

 

Let me step back now and tell you about the New CPSC. A CPSC that in the past 10 months has turned the corner and is headed in the right direction. A direction that I believe that is contributing to a safer marketplace for consumers.

 

Through the passage of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, we are now a nation swiftly moving away from harmful chemicals and heavy metals in children’s products. We are a nation that has sent a strong message to our global partners about their responsibilities, to do what is just and fair in manufacturing products intended for our stores. And, we are a nation that has reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring that CPSC will be a leading regulator of the marketplace.

 

For these reasons, I say that product safety in the United States in strong and getting stronger.

 

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 brought renewed confidence to parents when they reached for that toy on the toy store shelf.

 

Change that has continued into 2010 and lead to:

 

a 75 percent decline in toy recalls,

 

an 80 percent decline in toy recalls due to lead violations,

 

the opening of our first foreign office in Beijing, and

 

a budget this year that is double what it was 4 years ago.

 

When you look at where we have been and where we are headed, you can see why we are agency on the rise. Coming from a private practice background, I can assure you that the small, but growing, staff at the CPSC is working much harder than government employees typically get credit for in order to enhance consumer safety. You can see that the CPSC is an agency on the rise through the dedication of our staff, who are:

 

working in the marketplace to catch misguided makers and sellers of children’s clothing with drawstrings,

 

working late into the night to complete new rules on component part testing, the definition of a children’s product, and product registration cards, and

 

working on weekends to stop online auctions of recalled products.

 

When you look at the revitalization that has gone on at the CPSC, and with state regulators, 2010 is showing signs in my opinion, to be the Year of the Consumer.

 

Now, some folks say that all of this talk of change at CPSC and better days for product safety is just happy talk and rhetoric.

 

Well, that’s not true.

 

I have seen it.

 

I have seen CPSC’s crib safety experts step up and say now is our time. Now is the time to create a state-of-the-art crib standard and not let special interests hijack the process. And thanks to the work of CPSC staff - with a little encouragement from me to ASTM - we are now on a clear path to creating a safer sleeping environment for our most vulnerable consumers.

 

I have seen it in the drive and determination that CPSC’s Compliance and Field Operations team has in attacking problems. From toys to Chinese drywall to swimming pools, they have conducted thousands of investigations, homeowner interviews, and site inspections in recent months.

 

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. But I am looking to work with people who come to the table with solutions and creative approaches to safety, not those who want to delay progress or fail to respond quickly to problems.

 

Now let me step back for a moment to say that I am fully aware of the chatter in certain circles that CPSC is an agency that is overwhelmed by mandates and distracted from its mission.

 

Well, to all of you here today, I say don’t believe everything you read.

 

We at CPSC are not a tired agency, but tireless in our pursuit of safety.

 

We at CPSC are not subsumed by unintended consequences, but consumed with matters of consequence.

 

During the past 10 months we have:

 

begun federal rulemaking on recreational off-highway vehicles, after it was brought to my attention there were no standards and a dramatic rate of rollovers resulting in deaths and injuries;

 

jump-started the agency’s dormant rulemaking on all-terrain vehicles, on which staff made great progress on before the passage of the CPSIA and was supported by Congress in their call to complete our work;

 

visited China multiple times to push for best practices in manufacturing, building safety into the products they export, and complying with CPSIA requirements;

 

we’ve conducted an industry wide recall of 50 million Roman shades and roll-up blinds with a free repair for everyone

 

worked hard to recall the remaining drop side cribs that pose a deadly entrapment and suffocation risk to babies;

 

we’ve moved swiftly to get ahead of the emerging issue of cadmium in children’s jewelry;

 

we’ve created CPSC 2.0, our social media initiative, which is putting lifesaving information before millions of online consumers;

 

we’ve joined forces with federal and state partners to address health and safety concerns associated with Chinese drywall in thousands of homes in the south – this has been the most expensive and expansive investigation in CPSC history;

 

we’ve joined forces with state Attorneys General from across the country to coordinate on major recall announcements and protect children from hazardous products;

 

we’ve carried out my principle of firm but fair enforcement of product safety laws by inspecting 1200 public pools and spas for compliance with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act – the results gave us good reason to believe that the law is working; and

 

we’ve held companies accountable for lead in paint violations tied to the major recalls of 2007 and 2008.

 

Our achievements in recent months represent a turning of the page on the past. We are now turning to a fresh page and scripting our own future. I believe this is rich with opportunities to retain the public’s trust in CPSC.

 

To keep our focus on what consumers expect of CPSC and what is in their best interest, I have established an ambitious agenda for this new year.

 

The top priorities for CPSC in 2010 are:

 

carrying out a SAFE SLEEP initiative for babies and toddlers;

 

modernizing the agency, including our work on the product incident database and open a new testing facility;

 

continuing our work to finish the pending CPSIA rulemakings;

 

implementing an expansive information and education campaign tied to the Pool and Spa Safety Act;

 

carrying out a minority outreach campaign; and

 

conducting an operational review and a new five-year strategic plan in partnership with Booz Allen Hamilton.

 

Let me start with the issue that all of you are most interested in and that it the creation of the product incident database. The database is the centerpiece of our initiative to modernize the agency.

 

With nearly $20 million allocated by Congress, CPSC is overhauling its information technology system, tearing down our old information silos and building up a highly integrated information technology system that harnesses the new public database and other new technologies to improve how the agency uses the information that it receives. The new Consumer Product Safety Risk Management System will improve agency efficiencies, allow us to connect the dots quicker, and take in ever more data.

 

I know there is great concern in this room about the database – I completely understand your concerns. But from day one, I have supported the requirement to create a searchable public database to enhance consumer safety.

 

Here’s why - I believe it has the potential to usher in a new generation of educated consumers. Consumers who know how to report product incidents, how to search for incident reports on products they own, and how to stay apprised of safety warnings from CPSC.

 

To give industry and the defense bar a chance to voice their concerns and give advocates a chance to share their vision, we held a public hearing in November and a highly successful two-day workshop in January. The process has been transparent and the feedback received from both sides of the aisle has been integral to the progress we have made in constructing the system.

 

In fact, just a few hours ago, CPSC staff briefed the Commission back in Bethesda, Maryland on a notice of proposed rulemaking which codifies how the database will function. Today’s public briefing was recorded and the rulemaking package is available on our Web site for everyone to see. Once the Commission votes on the NPR, which is expected to occur next Thursday, all of you will have another opportunity to provide the Commission with your comments and feedback.

 

The rulemaking documents that upon receipt of a “report of harm” CPSC has just 5 days to process it and transmit it to the named manufacturers. After receipt, the manufacturer then has 10 days to investigate the report and respond to CPSC. If there is no cause for withholding the report, it will be published online 10 days after it is received by a manufacturer. If any part of the report is materially inaccurate, then it will not be entered into the database. If missing or incorrect information can eventually be identified or corrected, then the report of harm will be posted.

 

We are working to establish a special industry portal so that manufacturers and their representatives can have a secure electronic environment to receive and reply to reports of harm in a timely manner.

 

I believe that the ability for companies to register their designated contact information with the CPSC to quickly receive reports of harm will be helpful for all involved.

 

The proposed rule also establishes the criteria for designating a report of harm as having confidential information or materially inaccurate information. Please know that CPSC is committed to doing all we can to ensure that false and confidential data is not published in the database. But those in industry should stop fighting old battles about whether the database is a good idea or not and get prepared for it to come online in March of 2011. That’s where you come in. We hope to provide companies as much guidance as possible about the database and will look to you as partners in educating your clients or your company on how the database functions.

 

It’s not going to be easy for manufacturers and their counsel at first, I realize that. It’s also going to be a challenge for CPSC.

 

Let’s continue to work together to be sure efficient processes are in place within every company, so that SaferProducts.gov – the domain where the database will be located - works as Congress intended it to.

 

SaferProducts.gov has actually been turned on.

 

The database is not yet on the site, but you can use the site to track its development and preview some of the pages and functions in advance of March 2011.

 

As I stated to you earlier, we are also modernizing CPSC through the use of social media. This year, we plan to expand the platforms we are using to include a recall phone application, cell phone text messages and hopefully Facebook.

 

And our new laboratory – or what the staff calls our product testing facility – is slated to open in Rockville, Maryland later this year with new, modern equipment. The staff and I are very excited that we will finally be able to do our own fire testing.

 

Regarding the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, I continue to believe that the Act was the most substantial and positive change for the Commission since it was created. There has been a paradigm change in the marketplace that cannot be reversed.

 

Companies that make zippers and buttons for children’s and adult products are eliminating lead from manufacturing. Tracking labels are now on children’s products, and product registration cards will soon be required for durable infant products.

 

Testing and certification to the small parts, pacifiers, lead paint, ATVs, metal jewelry and cribs have been in place, which is good for consumers. For other products, the Commission has stayed implementation to allow the agency time to establish a global infrastructure for testing and certification so that industry is not set up to fail.

 

We want the Act’s requirements to succeed for affected industries and for consumers.

 

There are some very important rules that I am encouraging our hard-working staff to complete this year, including

 

defining what is a “children’s product,” under CPSIA

 

establishing the long-awaited rules for what is “reasonable testing,” and

 

promulgating more of the juvenile product rules.

 

Regarding the CPSIA section 104 requirements, I would like everyone to know that there is synergy between my philosophy on voluntary standards and the Act’s mandate to create mandatory rules.

 

The implementation of the Consumer Product Safety Act in the 1980s may have lead an eight to one ratio in voluntary to mandatory standards, but the CPSIA has changed that ratio.

 

In my opinion the work of voluntary standards committees has never been more important. The voluntary standards bodies need to stay relevant by stepping up and enhancing their standards now.

 

For example, if the standards are improved to make strollers less prone to finger amputations or bassinets less prone to entrapment, then we can recognize the standard at the federal level as it is.

 

Even beyond the CPSIA, where a voluntary standard is not being complied with or is not working to protect consumers, I have directed staff to explore federal rulemaking.

 

I have also directed the staff to do more outreach with the small business and crafter communities. These businesses are filled with good, hard working people. I don’t want their businesses to fail, and I don’t want anyone to not be able to care for their families. But, the law covers all companies big and small for good reason.

 

We are going to keep pursuing component testing and exploring other cost savings options for small businesses. All the while, we will be stepping up our communication with these businesses to help them stay in compliance with the law. Recently, we held educational Webinars for small businesses and the response was favorable.

 

While we do our part at CPSC to effectively and reasonably implement this child safety law, the Commission will continue to be responsive to the Congress as they consider options and possible amendments.

 

Another key priority to me is reaching out to minority communities. I believe that every consumer, no matter where they live or who they are, deserves access to lifesaving information about household dangers and product hazards.

 

The GAO pointed out ways that we can improve in this area, so we are now working hard to collect injury data by ethnicity and are formulating a grassroots minority outreach campaign. This campaign will combine the power of the Neighborhood Safety Network with on-the-ground outreach to African Americans, Hispanics and other minority communities.

 

Finally, I am pleased to announce that Booz Allen Hamilton has been selected to help CPSC meet our vital mission and modernize our organization.

 

Over the next few months, CPSC and Booz Allen will be teaming up to develop a five-year strategic plan and conduct an operational/managerial analysis. We must take the time to reflect and think about where we want to be in the next five years and the best way to position ourselves for success.

 

The first step in creating a dynamic strategic plan will be to bring CPSC’s new vision and major goals into focus. This step is already well underway. The second step will be building an operational plan that will enable us to review the way we do our business and assure that our organization is aligned to execute our vision.

 

I’m pleased to be able to launch this initiative here today, and I encourage all of you to participate in this great opportunity to help shape the future of our agency and what we do every day.

 

I would like to close my remarks today by giving you a better sense of who we are at CPSC. CPSC stands for safety and that is best represented in our staff.

 

We are parents and grandparents, survivors and fighters.

 

We are an agency represented by people working in honor of children taken too soon and people whose own lives were almost taken too soon.

 

We have heart and we have talent at CPSC.

 

We have staffs who are experts in their field – whether it be child behavior, engineering, toxicology, chemistry, or administrative law.

 

We have compliance officers, who some of you may have worked with before. These officers strive to be fair in their negotiations with recalling firms, but must ensure that the safety of the consumer is protected. Each year they are responsible for recalling hundreds of dangerous products, most of which are announced before anyone is injured.

 

And field staff who drive hundreds of miles to interview a family who has lost their home to a fire or worse yet, lost their child.

 

We have port inspectors looking for that needle in the haystack as millions of products flood into ports of call each day, using new technologies to hone in on violative fireworks, toys, and cigarette lighters.

 

And we have scientists strapped for dollars, yet as dogged in their pursuit in identifying the next chronic hazard as their colleagues at NIH or EPA.

 

Finally we have a new, expanded Commission. Not always unanimous in our votes, but all committed to keeping children safe.

 

A new Commission that has new powers – and we are not afraid to use them. If you resist our efforts to recall dangerous children’s products, be forewarned, this Commission stands ready to be creative in the use of our enforcement authorities.

 

To show how serious we are about enforcement, all of you should know that just a few weeks ago we levied a serious fine – a $2 million fine - against a west coast importer named Daiso.

 

Daiso repeatedly ignored our warnings to stop importing children’s products that violated federal rules on lead paint, lead content and small parts.

 

Now the fine was large, but that wasn’t the big news. The big news is that we are being more creative in the use of our enforcement actions.

 

We secured an injunction that completely stops Daiso from importing children’s products into the country until the company hires a safety professional and proves to us that it knows our laws and is in compliance with our laws.

 

We worked closely with the Justice Department on this case and our cooperation with the Justice Department on these types of matters is expanding.

 

Consumers expect CPSC to be proactive, put their interests first, use their tax dollars wisely, and be nonpartisan in our pursuit of protecting children.

 

Under my leadership this is what we will strive to do at CPSC.

 

And with your support, I will continue the transformation of CPSC from what some have described as a “teething tiger” into the world’s leading lion of consumer protection.

 

Once again, thank you to DRI and to all of you for inviting me to be part of your product liability conference.

 

I wish you all an enjoyable remainder to your day and hope to see you again soon.