@CPSC.gov

Some CPSC breaking news unrelated to the shutdown! Last Wednesday, President Trump renominated Ann Marie Buerkle, who has served as Acting Chair of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission since February 9, 2017, to serve as permanent Chairman of the Commission.  The appointment is for a seven-year term beginning on October 27, 2018 when her current term expired. Acting Chairman Buerkle has continued to serve under the agency’s enabling statute and rules that permit a commissioner to “hold over” for an additional year pending confirmation of a new term or commissioner.

Notably, this is the third time that President Trump has nominated Acting Chairman Buerkle to be permanent Chairman of the CPSC. In 2017 and 2018, Senate leadership did not bring Buerkle’s nomination to the Senate floor for a vote leading to a process whereby the White House had to send the nomination back to the Senate for further consideration.

So what does this renomination mean for Buerkle’s prospects to finally be confirmed as Chairman?

First, the White House is clearly sticking by Buerkle to become permanent Chairman of the agency. The Administration has shown no intention of nominating someone other than Acting Chairman Buerkle—even in the face of prior, sporadic opposition to the nomination by some former Commissioners and members of Congress.

Second, speaking of opposition, Buerkle’s main detractor in the Senate, former Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in the 115th Congress, lost his 2018 election to now-Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL). Senator Nelson made no secret of his opposition to Buerkle’s nomination and frequently focused his attention on disagreements with Buerkle over the regulation of portable generators. While other individual Senators, including the Committee’s new Ranking Member, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), may have policy disagreements with Buerkle, their opposition to her nomination is not likely to be as vocal or strong as former Senator Nelson’s.

Third, the political dynamic at the Commission is different than in July 2017 and January 2018 – the last two times President Trump nominated Buerkle to serve as Chairman. With the Senate’s confirmation of Commissioners Dana Baiocco and Peter Feldman this past year, the Republicans now have a majority at the agency. Buerkle, as Acting Chair, has led that new majority. Elevating her to permanent Chair will change little in the current day-to-day operations of the Commission (though, it is true that her confirmation would have a longer-term impact on the political makeup of the Commission, but that subject is for another day).

From this vantage point, Buerkle deserves an up or down vote at the very minimum, and the opportunity to lead the Commission as permanent Chairman. She has shown herself to be an astute leader of the agency over the past two years who seeks consensus and input from all product safety stakeholders—industry and consumers alike. Time will tell whether her nomination moves forward in the Senate given the current political dynamic.

 

© Getty Images

Two weeks ago, after the Senate confirmed Dana Baiocco to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), we wrote that it would not be a surprise if President Trump appointed a fifth commissioner in the coming weeks to give the Republicans a 3-2 voting majority on the Commission. Well, on June 4, the President nominated Peter A. Feldman to be a Commissioner of the CPSC. This is a very significant development. If confirmed, Feldman will fill the remainder of former Commissioner Joe Mohorovic’s term, which expires in October 2019, and give the Republicans their first majority at the Commission in nearly twelve years. The confirmation would also allow Acting Chair Ann Marie Buerkle to start to move the agency in a direction that reflects her regulatory priorities, as well as those of the Administration.

Mr. Feldman is known to many in the product safety community. Having served as legal counsel at the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation since 2011 (most recently as Senior Counsel), he is knowledgeable and well-versed in consumer product safety law and the activities of the Commission. He is a graduate of American University’s Washington College of Law.

Upon his nomination, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) stated the following:

“Peter has been part of the Commerce Committee team and an invaluable resource during my entire tenure as ranking member and chairman. While I will miss his steady hand in our committee’s bipartisan efforts to fight for consumer safety and fairness, the Consumer Product Safety Commission will benefit from his expertise and leadership. Once the committee receives the formal nomination and other required submissions, I expect we will move quickly to convene a confirmation hearing.”

We expect Feldman’s nomination to move faster than that of Commissioner Baiocco. Should Feldman be confirmed to fill former Commissioner Mohorovic’s term, we also expect President Trump to re-nominate him for a new seven-year term in October 2019. In the meantime, until Feldman’s confirmation, the Commission remains in a 2-2 voting “tie.”

© iStock

The 3-1 Democratic majority at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has officially come to an end one and a half years after the election of President Trump and eight months after the nomination of Dana Baiocco as a commissioner of the CPSC. This afternoon, the United States Senate voted 50-45, mostly along party lines, to confirm Ms. Baiocco to the Commission. This confirmation is significant.

As of today, Ms. Baiocco will be able to take her seat on the Commission, and Commissioner Marietta Robinson, currently in her “hold-over” year as her term expired last October, will depart the agency. Commissioner Baiocco’s arrival at the CPSC will shift—or at least begin to shift—the Commission’s balance of power from Democratic to Republican control.

With Ms. Baiocco’s confirmation, Republicans will hold two seats on the Commission currently occupied by Acting Chair Ann Marie Buerkle and Commissioner Baiocco. They will serve alongside Democratic Commissioners Robert Adler and Elliot Kaye. The fifth seat on the Commission has remained vacant since former Republican Commissioner Joe Mohorovic resigned from the agency last October.

Commissioner Baiocco’s confirmation marks an end to the unusual dynamic whereby the Commission’s leader, Acting Chairman Ann Marie Buerkle, a Republican, was in the minority, and generally unable to implement the regulatory priorities of the Administration. Although Acting Chairman Buerkle will not command a 3-2 majority until the President appoints a fifth commissioner (who must also be confirmed by the Senate), the Democrats will no longer have a de facto majority to control the agency’s agenda.

While Ms. Baiocco’s confirmation certainly changes the balance of power at the Commission, some political limbo and uncertainty remains. Acting Chairman Buerkle’s nomination to be permanent Chairman remains pending—and there is no indication from the Senate that it plans to move the nomination forward as it has just done with Ms. Baiocco’s nomination. Moreover, although the Democrats have lost their 3-2 majority on the Commission, a 2-2 voting “tie,” may result in stalemate as Acting Chairman Buerkle does not have any tie-breaking authority as Chairman.

Nevertheless, we can now expect the Commission to start to move in a direction that reflects some of the Administration’s regulatory priorities and agenda. Furthermore, we would not be surprised if President Trump appointed a fifth commissioner in the coming weeks to once again shift the balance of power—this time, giving the Republicans a 3-2 voting majority.

On Monday, President Trump nominated Ann Marie Buerkle, who has served as Acting Chair of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission since February 9, 2017, to serve as permanent Chair of the Commission.  The appointment is for a term of seven years beginning on October 27, 2018 when her current term expires.  Acting Chair Buerkle’s statement on her nomination can be read here.

This nomination must be confirmed by the Senate.  Even if confirmed expeditiously (and that is a big if), the current minority-majority political dynamic at the Commission will not change until President Trump is able to appoint a third Republican Commissioner once Commissioner Marietta Robinson’s term expires in October later this year.

Acting Chair Buerkle’s regulatory philosophy and priorities for the Commission have been well documented, including in our prior blog posts.  In fact, she reiterated some of those thoughts as they pertain to product recalls in opening remarks at the CPSC’s Recall Effectiveness Workshop yesterday, July 25.  Acting Chair Buerkle stated that the Commission and its staff:

  • need to continue engaging all product safety stakeholders and listen to ideas, problems, and solutions concerning product recalls;
  • should not have a “one size fits all” approach to product recalls;
  • should not expect recalling companies to bankrupt themselves in undertaking a voluntary product recall; and
  • should look at proportionality and risk when effectuating a product recall.

Acting Chair Buerkle concluded her remarks by stating that the most effective way to prevent consumer injury is not through product recalls, but through preventing unsafe products from entering the market in the first instance.

We expect Acting Chair Buerkle to be confirmed in the coming months and wish her congratulations on the nomination.  

CPSC Reaches Civil Penalty Agreement with Viking Range and Middleby Corporation; Firms to Pay $4.65 Million to Resolve Late Reporting Allegations Over Defective Gas Ranges

StoveThe U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has announced a civil penalty settlement with Viking Range, LLC of Greenwood, Mississippi and its parent company, The Middleby Corporation of Elgin, Illinois. The companies have agreed to pay a civil penalty of $4.65 million to resolve charges that they knowingly failed to immediately report allegedly defective gas ranges to the Commission under Section 15(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA). This civil penalty, the second of 2017, follows the Commission’s $5.8 million civil penalty levied against Keurig Green Mountain in February. Both penalties underscore that the Commission’s general approach to civil penalties, and desire to increase the amount of penalties imposed for violations, will not change overnight with new agency leadership. Indeed, the Acting Chairman actually voted against the settlement agreement, proposing instead an amendment to reduce the amount of the civil penalty to $2 million.

Continue Reading CPSC Announces Second Civil Penalty Of Year

Cars on highwayMore than two months after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the automotive industry continues to face substantial uncertainty regarding the direction and priorities of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) over the next few years. For now, we can only guess.  The new Transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao, was confirmed January 31.  She takes over a NHTSA that had been working hard to keep up with emerging technologies – while acting increasingly muscular in its fines and other punishments under the prior administration.

For some safety agencies, it is much easier to read the tea leaves under the new administration. For example, at the Consumer Product Safety Commission, for example, we know that there is a new Republican Acting Chair (Ann Marie Buerkle), and that the five commissioners will remain 3-2 in favor of Democrats until at least October 2017 when Democratic Commissioner Marietta Robinson’s term on the Commission expires.  See prior article here.  And, following Acting Chair Buerkle’s public remarks last month at the annual conference of the International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organization (ICPHSO), we know that her top three priorities include: (1) collaborating with all product safety stakeholders; (2) taking a balanced and reasonable approach to regulation; and (3) expanding product safety education and awareness for consumers.  See prior article here.

Continue Reading What Does The Future Hold For NHTSA?

Acting Chair Ann Marie Buerkle
Acting Chair Ann Marie Buerkle

This past Wednesday, in her first public remarks as Acting Chair of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), Ann Marie Buerkle announced her top three priorities. As our readers know from our previous post, on February 9, then Commissioner Buerkle became Acting Chair of the CPSC after Commissioner Elliot Kaye stepped down as Chairman. Speaking to the annual conference of the International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organization (ICPHSO), Acting Chair Buerkle announced that her top three priorities include: (1) collaborating with all product safety stakeholders; (2) taking a balanced and reasonable approach to regulation; and (3) expanding product safety education and awareness for consumers.

The overarching theme of Chairman Buerkle’s remarks could not have been more clear: the core mission of product safety does not change with respect to who is in the White House—the focus needs to remain on safety, data, and science, and, to further that mission, all product safety stakeholders should remove their stereotypes of different groups within the community and work collaboratively and creatively to further a common goal.

To that end, Chairman Buerkle stated that she will continue to approach product safety as she has done since taking her seat on the Commission in 2013 in order to further the agency’s mission—she will strive for good governance, build relationships across the safety community, take advantage of available data and science, and rely upon the expertise available inside and outside of the Commission.

Acting Chair Buerkle’s top three priorities include: Continue Reading CPSC Acting Chair Buerkle Announces Top Priorities at Product Safety Conference

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has a new Acting Chairwoman: Commissioner (and former Congresswoman) Ann Marie Buerkle.  Although no formal announcement has been made, those within the agency have acknowledged that current Chairman Elliot Kaye relinquished the chairmanship yesterday.  Commissioner Buerkle, one of the two Republican members of the Commission and Vice-Chair of the Commission since January 19, assumed her new duties once Kaye announced his decision to the agency.

Former Chairman Kaye has not resigned his seat on the Commission—his announcement relates to the chairmanship only.  This development presents an unusual dynamic moving forward: although the Commission will now be chaired by a member of the President’s political party, the Republicans will remain the minority party on the Commission until at least October 2017 when Democratic Commissioner Marietta Robinson’s term on the Commission expires.

Commissioners’ terms are fixed and are independent of the Administration (whichever political party is in power).  Thus, absent the early resignation of a Democratic Commissioner, the Commission will be led by a Chair who does not command a 3-2 voting majority based on political party.  Democratic Commissioners Kaye, Adler, and Robinson remain in the majority and incoming Acting Chair Buerkle and Commissioner Mohorovic remain in the minority.

Given this highly unusual circumstance, policy changes at the Commission are not likely to come fast; the transition will occur over the coming year.  Nevertheless, Acting Chairwoman Buerkle will have additional resources at her disposal and be able to set new priorities for the Commission.  We expect that Acting Chairwoman Buerkle will continue to reach out to all members of the product safety community as she has done over her tenure as a Commissioner and listen to the concerns of all stakeholders.