For the first time since February 2017, when then-Chairman Elliot Kaye stepped down as leader of the agency, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has a permanent chairman. On October 7, 2021, the U.S. Senate confirmed Alexander Hoehn-Saric as Chairman (and Commissioner) of the CPSC by voice vote. Hoehn-Saric’s confirmation comes on the heels of some partisan wrangling at the Commission during which Republican Commissioners Dana Baiocco and Peter Feldman successfully amended the Commission’s FY22 Operating Plan by a 2-1 vote over the strong opposition of then-Acting (Democratic) Chairman Robert Adler. Given Adler’s plea following that vote for the (Democrat-held) Senate to confirm the pending nominations of Hoehn-Saric, and Richard Trumka Jr., and Mary Boyle, President Biden’s two other recent nominees, Hoehn-Saric’s swift confirmation was likely no coincidence.
As previously discussed in a prior post, Mr. Hoehn-Saric comes to the CPSC from Capitol Hill where he last served as Chief Counsel for the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce and the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology at the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Mr. Hoehn-Saric has also served previously in various senior roles on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Department of Commerce, Federal Communications Commission, and Charter Communications. Like his recent predecessors, he is knowledgeable and well-versed in consumer product safety law and the activities of the CPSC.
So, what does this mean for consumer product safety stakeholders?
In the short term, the Commission will now have two Democrats (Hoehn-Saric and Adler) and two Republicans (Baiocco and Feldman), and likely partisan gridlock. While the Democrats will have to wait a bit longer to gain back a majority, particularly so if Mary Boyle’s confirmation stalls in the Senate, in the interim, Commissioners Baiocco and Feldman will no longer command a 2-1 majority along party lines. And we expect Commissioner Adler to hold-over (for up to a year) when his term expires later this month if either of the other Democratic nominees, Trumka Jr. and Boyle, are not confirmed by the Senate by the last day of Adler’s term—certainly so if the alternative (i.e., retiring and departing the agency), means a renewed 2-1 majority for the Republican commissioners.
As to longer term implications, based on his testimony to the Senate Commerce Committee during his confirmation hearing, we expect Hoehn-Saric to share similar political and regulatory philosophies as those of then-Acting Chairman Adler. Although the new Chairman and soon-to-be Democratic majority will need to navigate the newly amended FY22 Operating Plan and its surrounding controversy, irrespective of whether the plan is amended again, we anticipate a continued focus on the Agency’s compliance and enforcement activities, which have most certainly seen an uptick over the past year or so.
In the meantime, we congratulate Chairman Hoehn-Saric on his confirmation, and look forward to working with him and his staff.