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ICPHSO Keynote Address - Wednesday, February 17, 2010, Washington, D.C.

September 17, 2012

Watch the video of this speech. This is in "streaming video" format.

Thank you so much Michelle for your gracious introduction. You truly represent the best of CPSC's state designee program. Your tireless efforts on enforcement and education have saved lives and prevented injuries in Wisconsin - and now the ICPHSO community is benefiting from your experience.

To the ICPHSO Board, members, and special guests, thank you for the invitation to attend my second ICPHSO conference and to discuss the state of product safety.

A tradition has developed in recent years for CPSC to have its own day to update the ICPHSO community. I am so pleased to be part of this tradition and to come before all of you today to report that the state of product safety is strong.

I firmly believe that we are headed in the right direction in building a safer marketplace and a safer community. 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.

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.

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 the CPSC, state regulators, and advocacy groups, 2010 is shaping up, in my opinion, to be the Year of the Consumer.

So that we never again have the year of the recall, let's continue to work together to put the interests of consumers above all else.

Now, some folks say that all of this talk of change at CPSC and better days for product safety is just 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 the right path to creating a safer sleeping environment for our most vulnerable consumers.

I have seen it in the drive 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. I believe in this team, and I know they are working not just for CPSC, but for the safety of the communities in which they live.

I have seen it during a visit to Yonkers, New York, where Jim Guest and Don Mays are modernizing a 75-year-old organization. Through advocacy, testing and a new partnership with schools, Consumers Union is empowering a new generation of parents with information to keep families safe.

And I have seen it in Jim Neil from RILA who took great pride in bringing 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.

Although I have been unable to endorse RILA's or TIA's testing programs, this is the kind of thinking, outside the box thinking, that I'm looking for from stakeholders.

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.

I'm looking to work with those on the cutting edge of safety.

People like Steve Gass in Oregon, who continues to push for table saws to have a sensing device that stops the blade within milliseconds of coming in contact with the skin. Affordable technology that prevents amputations, now that's good for consumers. Steve was recognized by CPSC in 2001, and he has not given up.

Organizations like the Public Interest Research Group, which is sending text messages to cell phones with toy safety information and the Center for Environmental Health, which is using XRF guns and the law to keep children safe from toxins.

And numerous companies that have worked closely with our agency to develop systematic, technological approaches to timely reporting. 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 on the Internet, except what you read on Web sites that end in dot gov.

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 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 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 reaching out to tens of thousands of consumers and has the potential to put lifesaving information before millions of online users;

We've 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;

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 such as RC2, Fisher-Price, Mattel, and Target 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.

As I stated in recent testimony before Congress, I believe that the safest product in a home with a baby must be the crib. In response to the completely unacceptable number of recalls, deaths and near-deaths in recent years, we are taking action.

Our Safe Sleep initiative is a holistic, multipronged approach. In 2010, CPSC staff will propose a final rule mandating new performance standards for cribs. CPSC staff is working closely with ASTM on this standard; but, let me be perfectly clear, if ASTM stalls or fails to approve key elements of our multi step performance plan, then we will act independently.

CPSC is trying to be a good partner with the crib industry, but the JPMA and ASTM need to act responsibly, in an expedited manner to regain their standing with parents and the public.

Let me repeat again, to be clear, there will be a new federal safety standard for cribs this year - that's a promise I've made to parents all over this country.

Internal to CPSC, we have created a new safe sleep environment team that will coordinate all crib recalls and expand our use of the Early Warning System.

Finally, we will use product registration cards, a national safe sleep campaign and an analysis of recall repair kits to make recalls more effective and to prevent child deaths from soft bedding or defects.

To honor the families who have lost their children like the Lineweavers, Davises, Keysars, and hundreds of other families, we must make every child's sleep environment a fortress of safety.

While we are on the subject of cribs, I have a message for manufacturers, a message that actually applies to makers of all consumer products. I say no more to the tired tactic of blaming parents in the press when CPSC announces a recall that involves a death.

Take responsibility and show respect to the grieving family, yes, even if they are pursuing litigation. Those who tread into this arena when CPSC has found your product to be defective will be called out. Make no mistake about it.

Next on our priorities is modernizing the agency. With nearly $20 million allocated by Congress, CPSC is overhauling its IT system, tearing down our information silos and building up a highly integrated system. 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.

Let's talk for a moment about the public database. From day one, I have been a supporter of the database. 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 a chance to voice their concerns and give advocates a chance to share their vision, we held a highly successful workshop last month and a great public hearing in November. The feedback received from both sides of the isle will be integrated into a final product.

But now that our team of experts has gone back to the process of building the database, I want those in industry to stop fighting old battles and get prepared.

Come this time next year when the database is activated, it is going to be tough for you, I realize that. It's also going to be a challenge for CPSC.

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

I am very pleased to announce to all of you that as of today has been turned on. Now 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.

I encourage all of you to attend the plenary session this afternoon with two of our IT experts and learn more about the approach we are taking to build the database and modernize our IT systems.

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 Facebook and cell phone text messages.

And our new laboratory - or what the staff calls our product testing facility - is slated to open in Rockville 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 will soon be on children's products, as will product registration cards.

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 CPSA in the 1980s may have lead an eight to one ratio in voluntary to mandatory standards, but the CPSIA has changed that ratio dramatically.

To those who sit on voluntary standards committees, I say your work has never been more important. Stay relevant by stepping up to enhance your standards now.

For example, if you revamp the standards to make strollers less prone to finger entrapments or bassinets less prone to entrapment, then we can recognize your standard in a mandated rule 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.

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.

I hope you were able to attend the various plenary sessions that my senior staff held this morning for a more detailed discussion on the CPSIA.

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.

Through a new contract with Widmeyer Communications and additional contracting to come, CPSC is poised to roll out a multi-million dollar information and education campaign on drowning and drain entrapment prevention in pools and spas.

I would like to thank Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the Baker family for their efforts to secure funding for CPSC to carry out this initiative.

We will honor Graeme Baker, Abigail Taylor, Zachery Cohn and the 300 children who tragically drown each year in pools, by putting the best and creative minds together on this campaign. Through education, layers of protection, and safer drain covers, I believe we can make pools fun for children and not a source of tragedy.

Look for more details about these two campaigns in the weeks to come.

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. We want this process to be inclusive of all our stakeholders. That's includes all of you. You will hear more in a plenary session later this afternoon about how we plan to include you in the strategic planning process, helping us set our vision, helping us set our goals, and also you telling us how to build an operational plan that will enable us to review the way the we do our business and assure that our organization is aligned to execute our vision. So this is your time to work with us in coming up with both of these plans.

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 this agency, because this agency is a part of what you do every day.

I would like to close my remarks today by giving you a better sense of who we are at the 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 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.

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.

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 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 the CPSC, as we are committed 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.

Once again, thank you to ICPHSO for inviting me to be here today.

Special thanks to ICPHSO President Rachel Weintraub for your steadfast commitment to children and to the CPSC. We thank you so much Rachel.

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

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