Consumer Products Reporting Database Under Attack

3/8/2011

Corporations and their political allies are targeting a public database that allows consumers to file complaints about unsafe products with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Republicans in the House are trying to prevent the agency from spending money to implement the reporting site by blocking approximately $3 million in funding.

The CPSC plans to launch its Consumer Product Safety Information Database, at SaferProducts.gov, on March 11. Online reporting forms will allow consumers to report unsafe products to the agency and will allow businesses to review and respond to the reports. The site will also allow consumers to gather information by searching for specific products such as children's toys.

The 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) required CPSC to create a publicly accessible, searchable database where consumers could find product incident reports and better inform themselves about the quality and reliability of a wide range of consumer products. The site is currently in its "soft launch" phase in which CPSC is testing its internal applications and procedures, according to the SaferProducts.gov website.

The major attack in Congress came from Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), who proposed an amendment to H.R. 1, the spending bill passed Feb. 19 by the House for the remainder of fiscal year 2011. The amendment passed and would prevent the agency from spending any funds on the database, thus killing the launch if the bill becomes law.

Manufacturers and business associations like the National Association of Manufacturers have targeted the database for fear that inaccurate data will be reported by consumers and, as a result, profits could be hurt. In CPSC's testing of the site during the soft launch, however, "of the 900 complaints that were logged, four were determined to be inaccurate," according to a March 3 BNA article (subscription required).

The attack on the database is only the tip of the iceberg in the fight against CPSC's implementation of the CPSIA, according to a Feb. 21 New York Times article. The broadside against CPSC – one of many agencies under fire in the spending bill – is part of a broader attack on regulations and government's role in protecting the public by these same corporate special interests and politicians.

H.R. 1 was set aside as Congress passed another stopgap spending bill that runs through March 18. However, the House and Senate are already working on another spending measure that would continue until the end of the fiscal year. It is likely that the CPSC rider will be part of the bill developed by the House, but it is not likely to be supported by Senate Democrats. BNA reports that Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) called the effort to block funding for the database a "bad idea" and said the action would deny consumers valuable information.

Some of the benefits of the database include:

  • The database will enable CPSC to recognize trends in product safety hazards.
  • The database will provide potentially life-saving public information about unsafe products. CPSC is currently required to contact manufacturers about a potentially unsafe product before it releases information publicly; this process often results in delays in getting information to consumers.
  • The database has built-in safeguards to limit the release of inaccurate or misleading information about products, including a period for businesses to review consumer complaints before they are posted publicly.
  • In compliance with the CPSIA, the CPSC has spent considerable effort and resources preparing the database. To stop it from being implemented is inefficient and wastes the resources already expended.

Open government groups are also strongly opposing the attempt to kill the database. The groups are lobbying the Senate to prevent passage of any spending bill that defunds the database.