U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Chairwoman Inez Tenenbaum testified last week at a  hearing before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government.  She noted that her agency was preparing to staff up for 2011 in anticipation of greater enforcement efforts under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008.

Tenenbaum was seeking a slight increase in CPSC’s approximately $118 million funding. She testified that the budget will allow CPSC to hire 46 new full-time employees, bringing total staffing staffing levels more than 1.5 times the complement as recently as in 2008.  Tenenbaum also noted that the CPSC would work closely with small businesses to ensure that CPSIA third-party verification requirements do not become a costly burden, by dedicating a business ombudsman to address concerns.

She testified that the CPSC is currently in the process of building the Consumer Product Safety Risk Management System, a Web-based database that is supposed to change the way CPSC collects, analyzes and deploys data about regulated products. She reiterated that the system is scheduled to be up and running by March 11, 2011.

We have posted about this database before.  And we had the opportunity to hear the Chair speak on the issue at the recent DRI Products Liability Annual Meeting.  She noted she understand the level of concern about the database.  The CPSC has issued a proposed notice of rulemaking on the database, and the recent Open Commission Briefing/Meeting on Public Database – Notice of Proposed Rules-making is available. To concerns from the manufacturing community about whether the database might allow for unconfirmed reports about their products, she noted that the CPSC does not want to publish inaccurate or confidential information. Every report of harm that is submitted will be reviewed by a member of the agency’s staff and, further, every report that identifies a manufacturer will be sent to that manufacturer, generally within 5 business days. She stressed the creation of a non-public manufacturer portal to speed receipt of and replies to these reports. She also stated that the agency will protect proprietary and confidential information from the companies.

While those goals are worthy, CPSC needs to develop a rigorous and timely process for addressing false and inaccurate reports– those that will scare consumers, harm business, and generate no additional safety gains. The commission needs to employ means to prevent the submission of fraudulent reports of harm while not discouraging the submission of valid reports. CPSC also needs to think about specific disclaimers it should make with regard to the accuracy of the information contained in the public database, and not put any governmental imprimatur on voluntary data that has not been verified. A sufficient time period should also be allocated for manufacturers to evaluate and respond to any proposed report.