Skip to main content

Consumer Federation of America Keynote Address - Thursday, March 11, 2010, Washington, D.C

September 17, 2012

Thank you so much Rachel for your gracious introduction. I hope all of you know that in addition to her great work for CFA, Rachel is also the president of an international consumer product safety organization.

That organization brought together some of world’s leading practitioners of product safety last month for a highly successful conference, due in large part to the great work of Rachel.

Rachel, you are a tireless advocate for children, progressive regulations, and ensuring that CPSC lives up to its mission. So long as I am Chairman your voice will be heard at CPSC.

Please give Rachel a round of applause. [pause]

It is an honor to be here today at my first CFA Consumer Assembly. I hope it is the first of many, because like all of you, I am an advocate for the consumer. I respect the role CFA plays in addressing not only product safety matters, but also being an advocate for the consumer on banking rules, energy policy, broadband, and healthcare.

My goal today is to give all of you a better sense of the change we have brought to CPSC. We are a new CPSC, a CPSC that consumers can trust to work on their behalf.

During these past 9 months of leading our small but talented team at CPSC, I have come to believe that we are headed in the right direction in building a safer marketplace.

For we are a nation swiftly moving away from harmful chemicals and heavy metals in our 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 through the passage of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

For these reasons, I believe the state of 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 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, and

change that brought renewed confidence to parents when they reached for that toy in the toy store.

And I’m pleased to report that we ended 2009 on a high note,

with a 75 percent decline in toy recalls versus 2008,

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

the opening of our first foreign office in Beijing.

and a 2010 budget 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. You can see it in the determination of CPSC staff

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

working late into the night to complete new rules on tracking labels 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 CPSC, and combine it with the increased influence of state regulators and advocacy groups, 2010 is shaping into what I believe will be the Year of the Consumer.

Now what does the Year of the Consumer really mean?

To me, it means having safeguards in place to protect the consumer at every step of the way - from manufacturing through distribution.

Let’s start overseas.

In the past 9 months, I have addressed Asian and international regulators in both Singapore and Hong Kong. I also led a delegation to China for a successful safety summit with our Chinese government counterparts, AQSIQ.

We need to address product safety at its source, which is why we at CPSC have such a focus on China.

We have pushed our partners in China to use best practices in manufacturing, build safety into the products they export, and comply with the all-important Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. I have also spoken to foreign regulators about the need to recognize the interconnection between trade and safety.

There are tangible results to show for our improved relations with our Chinese counterparts:

Following the wave of toys recalls in 2007 and 2008, the Chinese government closed a significant number of toy factories for not meeting US safety standards.

Just recently, AQSIQ, our government counterparts in Beijing, sent a strong message to manufacturers to stop using cadmium in the production of children’s products. A message that is consistent with one I sent in January.

AQSIQ has also recognized that manufacturers need to anticipate misuse, have strict controls on component parts, and do enough testing to ensure that all of the products coming off the line are safe for consumers.

I know the frustrations that US consumers have with Chinese made goods, especially those that have been recalled. I am dealing with the reality at CPSC that imports will not slow down, not now or in the future, so we need to do everything possible to help foreign manufacturers build safer products than in the past. That is a commitment we are making to consumers.

Once a toy or cigarette lighter or ATV leaves China or Vietnam or Singapore, we are working harder than ever before to intercept it at the port, if it is unsafe.

CPSC has full time staff working at major US ports – like Long Beach, Houston, Seattle, and New York. In our Fiscal Year 2011 budget, the agency is asking for $2 million to expand our coverage at the ports, collect suspect samples, verify their 3rd party certification, and stop and destroy unsafe products as Congress directed us to do.

My agency has fostered a very good partnership with Homeland Security. This year, for the first time, the Customs and Border Protection agency is going to give us access to electronic manifests. This is a major development. We will be able to see the details of cargo that is headed for our shores, while it is still out at sea.

This will help CPSC become even more targeted and even more effective in the containers we open up and inspect. It’s still a needle in a haystack that we are looking for, but our odds of finding that needle and protecting the consumer is increasing.

To show how serious we are about enforcement at the ports and holding importers accountable, all of you should know that just last week 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. We worked closely with the Justice Department on this case, and Daiso has a very high hurdle to jump over to ever get back in the import business again.

The company must hire a safety professional and prove to us that it knows our laws and is in compliance with our laws.

Now, let’s focus on the marketplace. When mom or dad are standing at the retail register or shopping online, what protections are in place to give them renewed confidence that a given product is safe for their child?

First, the CPSIA has created new child safety rules which have been in place since last year. The lowest lead paint and lead content limits in the world have been established. Limits have been placed on phthalates in child care articles and toys. And all of the longtime voluntary toy standards were made mandatory.

In addition, the CPSIA made it illegal to sell a recalled product and increased our civil and criminal penalty powers.

In a very important step for consumers, there is now independent testing and certification going on for lead paint, small parts, pacifiers, cribs, and children’s metal jewelry.

Senator Durbin came before this Assembly 2 years ago to talk about the need to craft new authorities for CPSC and new protections for the consumer, and I am here today to tell you that they are in place.

It has not been easy and enforcement of some provisions of the law has been stayed. But overall, the marketplace is changing for the better because of the CPSIA.

From foreign factories to US ports to the marketplace, CPSC is committed to using its people and powers to strengthen the protections that consumers deserve.

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

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 stop advancements in safety. And thanks to the great work of CPSC staff we are now on the right path to creating a safer sleep environment for our most vulnerable consumers.

I have seen it in the drive that CPSC’s Compliance team has in attacking problems. From toys to Chinese drywall to swimming pools, they have successfully negotiated hundreds of recalls of dangerous products, conducted thousands of investigations and site inspections, and saved lives.

I have even seen it in the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which brought representatives from 70 percent of US retailers to meet with Commissioner Bob Adler and me to announce a plan to create a uniform testing and certification program.

Competitors becoming partners in the pursuit of product safety, especially the safety of children’s products, is what this new direction is all about.

It is what we all need to be about at this time.

As many of you have heard me say before, I am also 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 CPSC.

CPSC is working hard to carry out President Obama’s order that came down on day one of his administration to disclose more records to the public.

Over these past nine 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.

Rachel and the outstanding coalition of consumer advocates that CFA is part of came to see me last year just as I became Chairman. Hearing your viewpoints and tapping into your expertise in product safety has made me a better Chairman.

During the past eight 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 rollover deaths and injuries;

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

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;

conducted a special surveillance program to rid stores of children’s clothing with dangerous drawstrings;

created CPSC 2.0, our social media initiative, which is reaching tens of thousands of consumers and has the potential to put lifesaving information before millions of online users;

joined forces with other federal 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;

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

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;

held companies such as RC2, Fisher-Price, Mattel, and Target accountable for lead in paint violations tied to the major recalls of 2007 and 2008; and

increased staffing in our International Programs office and put the first CPSC employee overseas at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

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, and I believe that 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 the new year.

The top priorities for CPSC in 2010 are:

carrying out a SAFE SLEEP initiative for babies and toddlers and creating a new mandatory crib rule this year;

modernizing the agency, including creating a product incident database that consumers can use to report to CPSC or check on reports entered by other consumers;

continuing our work to finish the pending CPSIA rulemakings;

implementing an expansive information and education campaign aim at preventing pool and spa drownings and entrapments at home or in public;

carrying out a grassroots minority outreach campaign; and

conducting an operational review and a new 5 year strategic plan in partnership with Booz Allen Hamilton.

As for a current issue we are working on, just this afternoon we issued a warning to parents about some Rudolph the Reindeer charm bracelets. The company that sold them is out of business, but the metal jewelry has very high levels of cadmium. Our message to parents: throw it away immediately.

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 staff who are experts in their field – whether it be child behavior, engineering, toxicology, or administrative law.

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

compliance officers who recall hundreds of dangerous products each year, most of which are announced to consumers before anyone is injured;

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

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

And 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 children’s products, be forewarned, this new Commission stands ready to be creative in the use of our enforcement authorities.

As the Toyota experience has shown in recent weeks, this government will not allow for delay in recalling dangerous products.

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, as we commit to making this the Year of the Consumer.

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.

Thank you once again to Rachel and to CFA for inviting me to be here today and for your support of the Commission.

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

Report an unsafe product