Consumer Product Safety Commission seal
The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC or Commission) is an independent agency of the United States government. The CPSC seeks to promote the safety of consumer products by addressing “unreasonable risks” of injury (though coordinating recalls, evaluating products that are the subject of consumer complaints or industry reports, etc.); developing uniform safety standards (some mandatory, some through a voluntary standards process); and conducting research into product-related illness and injury. In part due to its small size, the CPSC attempts to coordinate with outside parties—including companies and consumer advocates—to leverage resources and expertise to achieve outcomes that advance consumer safety. The agency was created in 1972 through the Consumer Product Safety Act. The agency reports to Congress and the President; it is not part of any other department or agency in the federal government. The CPSC has five commissioners, who are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate for staggered seven-year terms. Historically, the Commission was often run by three commissioners or fewer. Since 2009, however, the agency has generally been led by five commissioners, one of which servers as chairman. The commissioners set policy for the CPSC. The CPSC is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland.
The commissioners of the CPSC are appointed by the U.S. president by and with the consent of the U.S. Senate. As with some other U.S. federal independent agencies, commissioners are selected as members of political parties. Although the president is entitled by statute to select the chairman (with the consent of the Senate), no more than three commissioners may share the same party. Thus, the president is generally expected to consult with members of the opposite party in the Senate to select members of the commission from the opposite party. The commissioners (including the chairman) vote on selecting the vice chairman, who becomes acting chairman if the chairman’s term ends upon resignation or expiration.
|Name||Position||Party||Appointed by||Sworn in||Term expires|
|Ann Marie Buerkle||Acting Chairman||Republican||Barack Obama||June 2013||October 27, 2018|
|Robert S. Adler||Commissioner||Democrat||August 2009||October 27, 2021|
|Marietta S. Robinson||June 2013||October 27, 2017|
|Elliot F. Kaye||July 2014||October 27, 2020|
The CPSC regulates the sale and manufacture of more than 15,000 different consumer products, from cribs to all-terrain vehicles. Products excluded from the CPSC’s jurisdiction include those specifically named by law as under the jurisdiction of other federal agencies; for example, automobiles are regulated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, guns are regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and drugs are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
The CPSC fulfills its mission by banning dangerous consumer products, establishing safety requirements for other consumer products, issuing recalls of products already on the market, and researching potential hazards associated with consumer products.
The CPSC makes rules about consumer products when it identifies a consumer product hazard that is not already addressed by an industry voluntary consensus standard, or when Congress directs it to do so. Its rules can specify basic design requirements, or they can amount to product bans, as in the case of small high-powered magnets, which the CPSC attempted to ban. For certain infant products, the CPSC regulates even when voluntary standards exist. The CPSC is required to follow a rigorous, scientific process to develop mandatory rules. Failing to do so can justify the revocation of a rule, as was the case in a Tenth Circuit decision vacating the CPSC’s ban on small high-powered magnets.
The CPSC learns about unsafe products in several ways. The agency maintains a consumer hotline through which consumers may report concerns about unsafe products or injuries associated with products. Product safety concerns may also be submitted through SaferProducts.gov The agency also operates the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), a probability sample of about 100 hospitals with 24-hour emergency rooms. NEISS collects data on consumer product related injuries treated in ERs and can be used to generate national estimates.
The agency also works with and shares information with other governments, both in the U.S. (with states and public health agencies) and with international counterparts.
The CPSC works on a variety of publicity campaigns to raise awareness of safety. For example, annually, the CPSC blows up mannequins to demonstrate the dangers of improper use of fireworks.
On November 2, 2007, the Washington Post reported that between 2002 and the date of their report, former chairman Hal Stratton and current commissioner and former acting chairman Nancy Nord had taken more than 30 trips paid for by manufacturing groups or lobbyists representing industries that are under the supervision of the agency. According to the Post, the groups paid for over $60,000 travel and related expenses during this time.
In 1972 when the agency was created, it had a budget of $34.7 million and 786 staff members. By 2008 it had 401 employees on a budget of $43 million, but the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act passed in 2008 increases funding $136.4 million in 2014 with full-time employees to at least 500 by 2013.
2007 has been called the “Year of the Recall” in the United States, and the CPSC alone obtained 473 voluntary recalls in 2007, a record. This notably included many incidents with lead in toys and other children's products. These issues led to the legislative interest in the reform of the agency, and the final result of these efforts was the passage of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act in 2008. The bill increased funding and staffing for the CPSC, placed stricter limits on lead levels in children's products (redefined from products intended for children age seven and under to children age twelve and under), restricted certain phthalates in children's toys and child care articles, and required mandatory testing and certification of applicable products. The Danny Keysar Child Product Notification Act required the CPSC to create a public database of recalled products and to provide consumers with a postage-paid postcard for each durable infant or toddler product. This act was named after Danny Keysar, who died in a recalled crib. Danny's parents, Linda E. Ginzel and Boaz Keysar, founded Kids In Danger and were instrumental in working with the CPSC to strengthen product safety standards.
The public database (saferproducts.gov), constructed at a cost of around US$3 million and launched in March 2011, "publicizes complaints from virtually anyone who can provide details about a safety problem connected with any of the 15,000 kinds of consumer goods regulated by the" CPSC. While being lauded by consumer advocates for making previously hidden information available, manufacturers have expressed their concern "that most of the complaints are not first vetted by the CPSC before they are made public", meaning it could be abused and potentially used to ruin specific brands. As of mid-April 2011, the database was accruing about 30 safety complaints per day.
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