Friday, February 17, 2012

Budget Woes

Earlier this week, President Obama unveiled his 3.8 trillion dollar budget to both Congress and the nation. The budget included the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s request for funds from Congress. As with many government agencies, the CPSC Chair controls the process through which the annual budget is prepared, both by establishing the agency’s goals and priorities, and by exercising authority over agency personnel to direct budget’s preparation accordingly. In the case of the CPSC, the product that comes before the Commission is a long and detailed document specifying the amount of funding sought for the fiscal year, as well as precisely how the money will be allocated among the agency’s strategic goals. Unfortunately, individual commissioners do not have a meaningful opportunity to influence the agency’s budget, and are instead called upon to approve or disapprove the budget as presented by the Chair. While my vote was not intended to oppose the budget, I was unable to endorse it, because I disagree with many of the funding choices it contains.

As a Commissioner, I believe it is my responsibility to both advance the safety mission of the agency and to be a good steward of taxpayer dollars. As I have illustrated countless times, my main concerns with this agency is the wastefulness of the enormous new investment in the Information Technology (IT) program. After already spending over 29 million dollars to “upgrade and improve” its IT systems, the Commission now seeks an additional $7.44 million to continue the work, and neither figure includes the millions of additional dollars in Commission staff time. The results so far are not encouraging. Take for example the public database, which as designed by the Commission, has resulted in a product with no chance of being useful to consumers. Its public interface is so primitive, cumbersome and limited in the scope of information it contains, that a consumer seeking information on the safety of a product would be far better served by one of the many private sector clearinghouses for consumer product information, such as, than by our publically funded portal. I believe that the staff time and resources dedicated to the Commission’s IT program over the last several years and projected into the future would be better focused on the agency’s core safety mission or on a more efficient and effective approach to upgrading its IT systems.

At a time when every agency is being asked to conserve resources to reduce the national debt and relieve taxpayer burden, the Commission must do its part by performing its safety mission in the most efficient and cost effective manner possible. Instead, the Commission is requesting an additional budget increase on top of the last four years of substantial budget increases, and intends to spend the money on priorities that will not enhance consumer safety.