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Editorial: Fix feds' broken consumer agency

Editorial: Fix feds' broken consumer agency

Consumer Product Safety Commission can't keep up

You’d have to have been living in a cave to be unaware of all the unsafe product stories that have plagued consumers in recent years. And it’s no wonder, given the rising tide of foreign-made goods being brought into this country from Third World producers like China, and the drastic cuts that have been imposed at the Consumer Product Safety Commission. CPSC staff has been out in half over the past two decades while imports of consumer products have soared to $614 billion. According to a New York Times story last Friday there are but 15 inspectors to monitor all of these imports.

At the same time, the White House has refused to fill a vacancy on the three-member CPSC board, so it has been unable to change agency rules or impose proper penalties for violations.

Measures in Congress would address these issues to varying degrees. Bills passed by the House and Senate would increase the CSPS staff, allow the agency to issue rules and penalties even when its board lacks a quorum, and drastically lower the allowable lead content of toys. Preferable by far, however, is the Senate bill, which would also create a database of complaints, allow states to pursue injunctions against dangerous products if the federal government isn’t acting, and establish mandatory toy safety standards, including testing. Maximum penalties for violations, currently $1.25 million, would be raised to $20 million, and selling a recalled product would be criminalized.

While House and Senate conferences are currently negotiating a compromise over the two bills, the Bush administration has come out foursquare against the Senate version, doing everything but threatening a veto.

Its stance is unfortunate, though hardly unexpected given the pro-business, anti-consumer bias it has demonstrated consistently over the past seven years.

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