This past Wednesday, Robert Adler, Acting Chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), delivered a keynote address at the annual conference of the International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organization (ICPHSO). In his final remarks to the conference as leader of the agency, Adler confirmed what many have suspected over recent months—with the arrival of a new Administration that, according to Adler, “clearly views product safety in different terms,” he has seen his role morph from a temporary caretaker to agenda setter. Adler raised some immediate priorities of the agency, which, to nobody’s surprise, included enhancing , seeking more monetary resources for the agency, and supporting certain legislative changes on Capitol Hill, including amending Section 6(b). He also emphasized the need for the agency to approach product safety from a variety of perspectives considering diverse communities. For those who missed the speech, we highlight some key takeaways here.
Compliance and Enforcement. Adler stated that the agency will use its dedicated Compliance and Enforcement team “to their fullest,” and “not forget about” certain of the agency’s enforcement tools including civil penalties, unilateral press releases, and administrative litigation. As we highlighted in a recent post, the agency has announced two civil penalties this year, which is two more than it had announced in the past several years. Industry stakeholders should anticipate a more empowered Compliance and Enforcement Division at the agency.
Budget and Resources. It is universally acknowledged that the CPSC is underfunded. In what may be his swan song, Chairman Adler is making a full court press with the Office of Management and Budget, and Congress, to obtain additional funding for the agency—not mere “incremental budgeting,” but rather the doubling of the CPSC’s annual budget. Adler wants those monies to support unfunded mandates from Congress; additional mandatory safety standard proceedings (think infant sleep products; dressers; flame retardants; window coverings; magnets; CO hazards; and table saws) and other priorities in the agency’s current operating plan, among other projects. We applaud Chairman Adler for his efforts in this regard—a significant increase in funds available to the agency is long overdue.
Legislative Changes. It also did not come as a surprise that Chairman Adler asserted forcefully that the agency needs to be “unshackled” from the “information muzzle” known as Section 6(b) of the CPSA, and that it’s the public that suffers from limits on information sharing. He discounted concerns that without 6(b) controls, misinformation about companies will run rampant. He also expressed a desire to see “less cumbersome” rulemakings. We should expect to see a Commission with a 3-2 Democratic majority to not only support, but also push for, big fixes to the agency’s enabling statute—especially, with a Democratic Congress and Administration in power.
Diversity. In a nod to current events, in addition to stating that the agency should look more like the people it serves, Chairman Adler discussed the need for the agency to approach product safety from a variety of diverse viewpoints. He asked “how might certain hazards exist for some vulnerable populations more than others? How might real-life barriers, like socio-economic status, affect our safety messages and peoples’ ability to respond to them? What methods can we use to reach marginalized and underserved communities?” These are important questions worthy of the agency’s consideration.
Chairman Adler’s remarks at ICPHSO served as a reminder that we are undergoing a political transition at the agency that will certainly impact industry and other stakeholders. All eyes are on the White House as we await agency nominations, particularly that of a new, permanent Chairman. As part of Crowell’s “First 100 Days of the Biden Administration” webinar series, our team will be focusing on these and other CPSC related issues on March 30, 2021—watch for a formal announcement soon!