South Carolina Association of Counties Conference - Tuesday, August 2, 2011, Hilton Head, S.C.

agosto 02, 2011

Good morning. To the officers and board of directors for the SCAC, thank you very much for the invitation to join you at your annual conference, and Carlisle [Roddy, SCAC President and Chester County Supervisor], thank you so much for that kind introduction.

 

As Carlisle stated, much of my professional career has been dedicated to serving our great state and developing policies that enhance the well-being of children.

 

During the nearly 10 years I spent travelling the state as the Superintendent of Education and as a candidate for the United States Senate, I visited all of the counties you represent.

 

I have great respect for the work that you do, and I have a real understanding of the challenges you face with county budgets being so tight.

 

In Lexington County, where I live, there was a 37 percent increase in the population between 1990 and 2010. Many other counties have seen a growth in their population, yet expenditures are barely keeping even or have outpaced revenues in recent years.

 

Dynamics like this can put a strain on delivering the level of services you strive to provide in your communities.

 

I certainly can relate to the pressures that a constrained budget environment and significant mandates can place on the leadership and employees of a public agency.

 

This morning, however, I want to share a positive message. I want to talk about the vision I have as the Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission of “Building Safer Products for Tomorrow,” and I want to tell you how it is connected to the association’s vision of “Building Stronger Counties for Tomorrow.”

 

Let me begin by giving you some insight into the CPSC. We were established by Congress in 1972, through the passage of the Consumer Product Safety Act.

 

We are an independent regulatory agency that has the potential to touch the lives of nearly every consumer. We believe that every consumer should connect with us to stay informed about product safety recalls and warnings.

 

The Energy and Commerce and Appropriations committees in Congress provide oversight and funding for CPSC. Our budget for this fiscal year is $114 million, which we are using proactively to put systems and safeguards in place that will prevent injuries.

 

To boost our effectiveness, we frequently collaborate on investigations and research with the FDA, EPA, CDC, Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and state regulators.

 

The Commission is comprised of five commissioners, who are appointed by the President and serve as the ultimate policymakers. We vote on issues brought before us by our staff and outside stakeholders.

 

You may remember that the Commission came under intense public and congressional scrutiny back in 2007 and 2008—before I took over the reins of the agency in June 2009.

 

Before I arrived, the agency did not have the necessary resources, authorities, and leadership to prevent all of those lead-painted toys, defective cribs, and dangerous magnetic toys from coming into this country. We are a different agency now.

 

We have grown from an agency of about 390 employees in 2007, to a workforce of 550 employees strong today. Now we have enhanced authorities at U.S. ports, greater civil and criminal penalty powers, expedited rulemaking authority, and the ability to warn the public faster of a serious safety risk.

 

The reemergence of the CPSC as an agency in which consumers can have complete confidence is due, in part, to the enactment of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (known as the CPSIA).

 

Congress passed the CPSIA and President Bush signed it into law in 2008, in response to the safety lapses in the marketplace that I mentioned before.

 

The CPSIA authorized an increase in funding for the agency, which Congress gave to us in 2009 and 2010. We put the additional funds to good use—as evidenced by can be seen in the new compliance officers, scientists, port inspectors, lab technicians, and legal staff.

 

Nevertheless, I still ask each of you—can you imagine the amount of work 550 dedicated public servants have to do to keep the entire country safe from the thousands of consumer products that we regulate?

 

Let me tell you, it is an enormous undertaking on a day-to-day and year-to-year basis.

 

Indeed, the work that this agency is able to accomplish is a real testament to the quality of our employees and their dedication to the job that we do. Their work enables us to address and prevent countless hazards in and around the home.

 

Many of our employees work at our headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland. But, we also have dedicated staff in Rockville, Maryland, at our new, state-of-the-art testing and evaluation center; in the field, doing inspections and investigations; at key U.S. ports, detecting and detaining violative imports; and in our very first foreign office, in Beijing.

 

When it comes to the products we regulate, I always find it helpful to start by listing the consumer products we do not regulate. The products over which the CPSC has no jurisdiction include: motor vehicles, boats, aircraft, alcoholic beverages, tobacco, firearms, medical devices, foods, drugs, and cosmetics.

 

With that said, we regulate all other consumer products.

 

In addition to implementing the CPSIA, we accomplish our mission by enforcing a number of other laws enacted by Congress. These include:

 

The Consumer Product Safety Act which gives us the power to recall or ban products that present a proven or unreasonable risk. Most consumers know about CPSC through our recall announcements.

 

The power to recall products has saved countless lives in our country. However, I believe that requiring companies to adhere to strong safety standards is a more proactive approach than having to recall a product.

 

The Federal Hazardous Substance Act is another law that we enforce. The FHSA is an important regulation that applies to products that are “toxic, corrosive, flammable or combustible, an irritant, or a strong sensitizer.” The FHSA has also been used to address dangerous metals and chemicals in children’s products.

 

We also have some special authorities established by our laws.

 

The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, named after the granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker, requires safer drain covers on all public pools and spas. This law was also the impetus for our nationwide drowning and drain entrapment prevention campaign called, “Pool Safely—simple steps save lives.”

 

The Flammable Fabrics Act which restricts the flammability of fabrics used in the manufacture of clothing and interior furnishings.

 

The Poison Prevention Packaging Act which requires child-resistant packaging for certain household substances.

 

And, as I mentioned previously, there is the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

 

Now, I would like to give you a rundown of what we have accomplished at CPSC through the implementation of the CPSIA:

 

The lead paint limits for children’s products have been set at the trace level of .009 percent.

 

The total lead content limits for children’s products will drop 10 days from today to .01 percent.

 

There is now a strict limit in place for phthalates, a potentially harmful chemical that we are keeping out of toys and child care products.

 

All of the toy standards in the country are mandatory now instead of simply voluntary.

 

We have established the toughest crib safety standards in the world, which will prevent deaths and help a lot of babies have a safe sleep.

 

We established new mandatory standards for infant walkers, baby bath seats, and toddler beds.

 

We are establishing independent, third party testing and certification requirements for various children’s products.

 

To some, this may sound like too many new rules for businesses to have to follow.

 

But, there are profound reasons why Congress and CPSC put these rules into place:

 

Dozens of children have died in defective drop-side cribs.

 

Dozens of children have had to undergo surgery to remove toy magnets that lodged in their intestines.

 

A child died and others have been poisoned from lead-laden metal jewelry.

 

Many children have died in defective play yards and strollers.

 

Each and every one of these new rules is aimed at protecting children and preventing injuries. And I know from talking to companies in South Carolina and around the United States and the world that makers and distributors of children’s products believe in safety and they believe in keeping their customers out of harm’s way.

 

It is unfortunate that some individuals and special interest groups in Washington say that CPSC has failed to take into account the concerns of businesses. This is simply not true.

 

The truth is there are numerous safety-conscious companies that have been making, testing, and selling children’s products for years that meet and exceed the requirements of the law.

 

I have been impressed with the effort that many toy makers, component part makers, and retailers have made to stay ahead of the newest safety requirements.

 

And I’m really proud of the work we are doing at CPSC.

 

We are strengthening the product safety net in this country, and we are building consumer confidence in the safety of products they see in retail stores or when shopping online. High consumer confidence is good for business and good for America.

 

Now, there are three additional initiatives that I want to share with you, which relate to our efforts this year to prevent injuries, save lives, and connect more businesses and consumers to CPSC.

 

These programs involve:

 

implementing our new, five-year Strategic Plan;

 

continuing to work with the Chinese government to improve their manufacturing processes; and

 

operating the SaferProducts.gov database.

 

Our new Strategic Plan will control our agency’s heartbeat, how fast it beats, and which muscles support it.

 

This plan is guiding us toward a long-term approach that I believe is best for CPSC and the industries we regulate—an approach that is more proactive and more focused on prevention.

 

With limited resources, being proactive might be the only path toward success for the agency. And it is the only path for CPSC to follow if we are truly to become the global leader in product safety.

 

I believe that CPSC is on the cusp of becoming that global leader, due to our renewed focus at home on injury prevention and our focus abroad on best manufacturing practices.

 

On the injury prevention front, we will use the Strategic Plan to bolster our already rigorous hazard identification effort. From the dangers associated with toxic metals, to the risks of strangulation related to window cords and drawstrings in outerwear, we have a proven track record of being a global leader in hazard identification.

 

What our Strategic Plan also will do is help us turn hazard identification into injury prevention and life saving.

 

Overseas, we are working proactively with global regulators, manufacturers, and suppliers to build safety into products intended for our store shelves.

 

One the best ways to deliver on the promise of our Strategic Plan is to ensure that our work plans with the Chinese government result in real reform of the manufacturing processes.

 

During my visits to China over the past two years, we have continuously made progress on a number of key points. We have focused on the shared responsibilities of all parties in the supply and distribution chain to ensure that their consumer products are safe.

 

The reason this is so important is because more than 80 percent of the toys and cigarette lighters and fireworks that are imported into the U.S. come from China. I believe it is vital that Chinese companies implement proven best practices and build safety into their products before these products reach our shores and land in our stores.

 

Change does not happen quickly in China; but I believe in our vision, and I believe that CPSC’s counterpart agency in Beijing shares our commitment to effect positive change in the manufacturing sector in China.

 

If I am correct, these efforts potentially could be among the most significant achievements our agency has made toward injury prevention.

 

The other initiative I wish to discuss is a really exciting one—the SaferProducts.gov database of consumer incident reports.

 

One of the reasons why I am a proponent of open government and transparency is the faith that I have in the consumer. I believe that an informed consumer is an empowered consumer.

 

To follow through on this belief, we launched a new website in March called, SaferProducts.gov.

 

If you use this website, and I really hope you will, you can submit a report of harm or a report of potential harm about a problem you experienced with a consumer product.

 

What is so exceptional about this site is that you can search for and view incident reports filed by fellow consumers about products that may be in your home or that you are thinking of purchasing.

 

The public has never had open access to this type of information before—information that could make your home and family safer.

 

Currently, there are more than 1,600 reports available for viewing in the database. There have been hundreds of thousands of visitors and page views proving that the system is working as intended.

 

Many of the reports on the database involve serious injuries to children and adults; other reports in the database shine a light on the potential for injury posed by a product.

 

It is important to note that on SaferProducts.gov, manufacturers have an opportunity to review reports of harm that make claims about their products, and they can respond to those reports, telling us if there is materially inaccurate information in the report. And consumers who make reports of harm about a product must acknowledge that their report is accurate to the best of their knowledge.

 

We want to get this database right, and we are getting it right.

 

I believe that SaferProducts.gov, along with our information technology modernization effort, will help us manage incident reports and other vital safety information with greater efficiency.

 

I also envision the SaferProducts.gov site empowering consumers to make independent decisions to further their own safety and their family’s safety.

 

So, please take a moment to visit SaferProducts.gov, and tell others in your county about it.

 

The final topic I would like to discuss is how CPSC can connect with you in the counties. As I said earlier, we have tremendous respect for the work you do and the services you provide to consumers in your county.

 

I would like to highlight three product areas—playgrounds, swimming pools, and smoke and carbon monoxide alarms—where changes to building codes could lead to safer homes and communities.

 

Regarding playgrounds, it is estimated that each year there are 200,000 emergency rooms visits by children. That figure really concerns me, and it needs to be reduced.

 

CPSC publishes a “Handbook for Public Playground Safety,” which is like the bible for safe construction and maintenance of playgrounds. It is simply a handbook of guidelines, not a set of federal requirements.

 

Many states and localities have adopted parts of CPSC’s “Handbook for Public Playground Safety,” as local code; and I would encourage all of you to do the same, so that community playgrounds are as safe as possible.

 

Next, I would like to talk about swimming pools. Now, I get to talk about money as an incentive for change.

 

There is a law called Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act which was created to reduce the 300 child drownings that occur each year and to address the hidden hazard of drain entrapment.

 

What may interest some of you is that the law also created a grant program, which seeks to reward county governments that change their pool codes to bring them in line with federal law.

 

The dollar amounts of the grants have the potential to be quite substantial. If you would like more information about qualifying for one of these grants, please visit our site, PoolSafely.gov, specifically, the special section we have created just for local officials.

 

When it comes to residential fires and carbon monoxide poisonings, the statistics show that, far too often, homeowners have not installed fire or CO alarms or they do not have working batteries in their alarms.

 

I would encourage each county to adopt the latest version of the National Fire Protection Association codes and National Electrical Codes. We have great information on our website—CPSC.gov—about smoke and CO alarms. With the latest codes in place, lives can be saved.

 

In closing, I want to let you know that I am proud of the direction we are heading at CPSC. We are trying very hard to demonstrate our agility and our ability to step in front of emerging hazards. These skills are essential elements of our Strategic Plan.

 

And I know we have the right team in place—a team that is willing to work in partnership with those committed to advancing product safety and willing to take action against those who do not believe in following the law.

 

Our small, yet dedicated staff is working to forge a new regulatory approach—an approach built on establishing predictability in product safety and bolstering consumer confidence. At CPSC, we are determined to make this a lasting approach.

 

If we can be partners in this effort, I know that we can build upon the considerable progress we have made in recent years.

 

This is progress that will help us reduce violative products in the marketplace.

 

It is progress that will help us reduce injuries.

 

And, it is progress that will connect more consumers and counties to CPSC.

 

Let’s continue to work together to advance the cause of safety—it is what the American public expects us to do.

 

Thank you, once again, for inviting me to this outstanding conference, and I look forward to seeing you again soon.