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Are Changes Coming to the CPSC?

With a new administration in the White House, companies big and small are keeping a close eye on developments that could impact their business. For manufacturers, retailers, and other stakeholders, questions are swirling about whether there are major changes coming to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Regulation Nation

In her first public remarks since being named Acting Chair in February 2017, Ann Marie Buerkle addressed some of those questions. She stated that the CPSC’s “mission of safety does not change” and that their “focus must remain on safety, data, and science.”

She also laid out her top three priorities: collaboration with all stakeholders – including both consumers and the business community, a “balanced and reasonable” approach to regulation, and education and awareness. While the latter is a position all parties agree on, they have diverged on certain regulatory stances. Because the CPSC is an independent agency, President Donald Trump’s “one in, two out” executive order is not binding. Buerkle has said she intends to comply with the “spirit” of the order. While this would indicate a change in course, many industry experts believe it will be business as usual – at least for the time being. Buerkle’s statements seem to indicate this as well. She called the transition “more akin to turning an aircraft carrier than it is flipping a switch.”

When it comes to product recalls, industry observers believe the numbers are unlikely to change as a result of the new administration. Both Buerkle and fellow Republican Joseph Mohorovic have indicated support for this specific aspect of the agency’s safety efforts. In addition, the CPSC has many avenues for learning of a product issue, including reports from consumers themselves. And no matter the regulations, the risk of legal liability and negative publicity surrounding potentially unsafe products remain.

Blurred Fines

In 2016, the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued more than $37 million in fines – nearly double that of 2015. Most of that figure stemmed from failure to report a safety issue in a timely fashion. Some argue steeper penalties protect consumers by incentivizing companies to follow strict safety standards – and maintain they still don’t go far enough.  Others believe they represent overreach on the part of the federal government and that the regulations surrounding reporting requirements are unclear.

Will a new administration bring changes? The answer is: maybe, but probably not right away. Democrats, who tend to favor higher penalties, still hold a majority of seats on the commission. After Marietta Robinson’s term expires in October of 2017, that will presumably change. However, Mohorovic has a mixed record on these penalties, in some instances breaking from Buerkle. Still, industry observers believe there will eventually be a push to establish more definitive criteria regarding when and how civil penalties are implemented.

The Bottom Line

Regardless of whether – or when – changes occur, companies should maintain strict safety procedures and protocols for investigating reports of defects. The stance of “when in doubt, report” isn’t limited to the CPSC. The public has the same expectation. By preparing in advance, companies can be confident, even when the regulatory environment they operate in is uncertain.

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