Over at the Pump Handle, David Michaels has a post on how ineffectual the CPSC is. He makes the point that the CPSC is “toothless”, wimpy and uses a NYTimes article that talks about the Magnetix case as an example of how the CPSC can’t get the job done. Although David does acknowledge how much of the problem comes from the current administration (the last guy they tried to get to run it was the VP of a manufacturing lobbing group – the nomination was since withdrawn).
I generally agree with the post but I don’t think that the CPSC is toothless. While they need much stronger regulatory tools, they aren’t using what they have. Part of this is leadership and part of this is culture. A kind of “well, we don’t have the legal authority to force this off the market so lets play soft and cuddly with industry in hopes they do what we want”. These public servants forget the huge advantage they can use besides the litigation route: The Press.
If CPSC identifies a hazard, say little magnets that are seriously harming children like the Magnetix set, it can do the following:
1) “Hey, Magnetix, take your product off the market NOW.”
If the response is “We don’t wanna” or the more probable “We don’t think there’s enough evidence to warrant that” or they are slow walking the agency, then the CPSC should immediately go to:
2) “Hey ABC [whoever], we are really concerned about this product Magnetix. It’s really hurting kids and the maker refuses to recall it or cooperate up to this point. And we are powerless under the law to force it off.
Outcome: ABC calls the manufacturer and if that doesn’t scare the bejezus out of them then the segment on 20/20 will. Market forces will teach the other guys that they need to take safety seriously.
To regulators: Realize that there is more than one way to get the job done and use the muscles you have. At the FDA, even though they have the power to force something off the market, they never have to use it. They simply release safety information and lo and behold there is a voluntary recall that goes along with it. Companies don’t want to lose customers (a public safety statement probably opens the lawsuit flood gates, too). This is how you get stuff done fast without any fuss. The CPSC may not have much legal power to force something off the market but they are still the arbiter of safety in the public square. They need to start using the public square and engaging citizens through the press. That’s what they are here for, for the citizens; not to be a black box protector, making decisions people don’t even know about.