Members of the Republican minority serving on the Consumer Product Safety Commission are accusing their Democratic counterparts of ignoring business concerns.
The agency responsible for implementing the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act is led by five commissioners: two Republicans, two Democrats and a chairman appointed by the U.S. president. The Republicans — Nancy Nord and Anne Northup — have said they believe CPSC, under the direction of current Chairman Inez Tenenbaum, is instituting regulations without considering the costs to industry, an especially harmful stance considering the current economy.
Particularly vocal is Nancy Nord, nominated by President George W. Bush and serving a term that expires in October 2012. Nord recently filed a letter with Cass Sunstein, head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs of the Office of Management and Budget, which reviews how agencies implement laws and regulations.
In it, Nord accused the Commission of ignoring two directives: a section of a recent presidential executive order stating that regulatory agencies must perform cost-benefit analyses before imposing a rule and a House Resolution that CPSC should seek input on the financial impacts of third-party testing requirements.
“There is a long history at this agency of regulating only after consideration of the costs and benefits of regulations,” Nord stated in her letter. “Unfortunately, that practice has fallen by the wayside over the past two years.”
But a CPSC spokesman said the agency has first sought to gain consumers’ trust, which helps business. “Since 2009, CPSC has made great strides to improve the safety of cribs, toys, pools, spas and other consumer products, which in turn, has given consumers greater confidence in the marketplace,” Scott Wolfson said.
At the heart of Nord’s letter are two recent rulings by CPSC, dubbed “major rules” because they are projected to have an economic impact of $100 million or more.
The agency has issued only two major rules in its 40-year history, one in 2005 concerning mattress flammability and the other last year, establishing new standards for cribs, according to Nord. The Commission currently sits poised to impose another — which would require ongoing, periodic testing of a long list of products — slightly more than a year after the second.
“With the proper analysis, this agency can construct rules that advance safety without undue economic impacts and without delay,” Nord wrote to the OIRA. “...Unfortunately, the majority here has shown no interest in making those efforts.”
Nord also has posted several entries in her blog, stating that CPSC implemented the crib standard in a chaotic manner, not realizing until too late the effects it would have on the child-care, hospitality and other industries. Because of a lack of advance analysis, she said, the agency had to reconsider and rework deadlines.
But CPSC’s Wolfson disputes the notion that the agency has ignored the needs of businesses. “[The CPSC has] worked hard in recent years to put new rules in place that give industry predictability, in terms of how we expect products to be manufactured, tested and imported, and what the consequences are for failing to comply with those rules,” he said.
When it comes to the Republican commissioners’ grievances, the assertions might be tempered by two facts, said Reed Rubinstein, senior counsel, regulatory affairs, for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He’s quick to remind that CPSC is sometimes bound by legislation to interpret and implement laws a certain way, as with the VGBA. Plus, the agency’s tone is dictated somewhat by the president, said Rubinstein, who characterizes President Barack Obama as seeking more aggressive regulation than recent predecessors.
“Over time, the Commission modulates,” he said. “In some administrations, [CPSC] believes it can exercise its legal authorities to a greater extent than it might in others. ... That is, in fact, reflective of the varying general approach to regulation of the different parties.”
Nord, however, doesn’t attribute recent outcomes to the partisan cyclings of the White House. “All of us are here to exercise independent thought and not vote as partisans, so this disturbs me a great deal,” she said. “I don’t think this is symptomatic of agencies that have Democrats and Republicans, but it is a really unique situation for this agency.”
Fellow CPSC Republican Anne Northup believes the Democratic commissioners are working with a unique focus. “The majority, with complete disregard for what the Congress passed, is pursuing as fast as they can the rule-making for this third-party testing and certification,” said Northup, an Obama appointee in 2009. “President Obama’s administration has issued an executive order asking us to make new rules considering the impact on jobs, on costs, [and if] there is a way to do this less costly. There’s just not any evidence that these three commissioners have any intention of taking those things into consideration. In fact, they don’t.”