Last week, the Los Angeles Timespublished an article that did not present fully all of the facts on the Majority’s consumer database proposal. To set the record straight, I submitted the following letter to the editor, which was published in today's paper:
Re "Whose concerns will make the cut?" Business, Nov. 16 David Lazarus gives the impression that all reports in the Consumer Product Safety Commission's public-backed database will be vetted. Here are the facts: The commission's proposal includes no requirement that reports of harm submitted to the database be verified for accuracy before they are posted. If a manufacturer claims that a report is inaccurate, there is no requirement or even incentive for the commission to review or make a determination on such claims. To make the database more reliable for consumers, I have proposed an alternative rule that improves on these areas; I hope my fellow commissioners will consider it. Without such changes, the commission's saferproducts.gov database will be useless to the very consumers the commission claims to be helping.
Anne M. Northup Bethesda, Md.
The writer is a commissioner on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Given the many flaws of the Commission’s draft final rule for the public database, my colleague, Commissioner Nord, and I have proposed an ALTERNATIVE DATABASE RULE. This rule more accurately reflects the law Congress provided us and it will address some of its key flaws.
Our alternative rule will: - tighten up who can submit information so that the reports coming into the database are more reliable; - improve the procedures for correcting inaccurate information so that consumers are not misled by bad information in the database; and - put in place procedures for review of reports so that the database does not become a “post it and forget it” exercise.
There is still time for the Commission to make these changes since the database vote is not until November 17th. I hope this alternative will receive due consideration.
More details to come on the Database rule’s main flaws…
We have already seen that the Commission established a definition for “consumers” that is so broad as to allow anyone to submit incident reports to the new database (rendering the category of “consumers” largely useless)---but let’s take a look at another category: PUBLIC SAFETY ENTITIES.
Given that the statute’s list of who may submit reports of harm denotes individuals likely to have firsthand knowledge of the incident, it makes sense that a “public safety entity” would include, for example, the fire fighter that put out the fire caused by a consumer product (direct knowledge of the incident). Or, it could include the city’s health department that inspected the county’s swimming pool and found a defect in its equipment (again, direct knowledge of the incident).
However, the Commission has construed “public safety entities” to mean any entities, public or private, that claim to have “a public safety purpose." The draft rule's definition states:
“…other public safety officials and professionals, including consumeradvocates or individuals who work for nongovernmental organizations, consumer advocacy organizations, and trade associations, so long as they have a public safety purpose.”
Really? How can the definition of "PUBLIC safety entities" be construed to allow even PRIVATE advocacy groups that may also have financially-driven or politically driven agendas to submit incidents directly into the database? This is a far cry from the kind of submitters provided for in the statute, and a step that opens a Pandora’s box of inaccurate, misleading information.
Based on this definition, the Consumer’s Union (CU), a common example of a consumer advocacy organization, can submit incident reports. While the CU claims to have a public safety mission, their website also lists advocacy campaigns related to big government health care reform, expanded federal regulation of banks, allowing bankruptcy judges to write down home loans, and promoting energy legislation---campaigns that are quite biased and unrelated to risk-based science or consumer safety.
What about the “Pool Safety Council,” which was established by an individual who was president of a company selling anti-entrapment "safety" devices for pools? A number of advocacy organizations with public safety missions may also have a conflict of interest or self-serving motives when it comes to reporting product safety incidents. That is probably why Congress did not authorize them to submit reports of harm to the database.
In any event, a U.S. Government, taxpayer-funded, public database should not be a vehicle for advocacy groups or attorneys that wish to file complaints (which they may have received third-hand) in order to promote hidden agendas. This would make the database misleading or useless for consumers...
If you are a consumer, a teacher, a school administrator, a parent, a store owner, a distributor, or in any way affected by the CPSIA, please share your experiences with me! Please email me at Commissioner_Northup@CPSC.gov.