Sadly, once again, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is sending the Congress a budget request that does not accurately reflect our true funding needs. We do so at a very real cost to consumers. The CPSC is a tiny independent agency, operating on a meager budget of $127 million for Fiscal Year 2019 and currently staffed by around 530 full time employees. Yet we must operate in an increasingly complex global economy with millions of consumers and billions of consumer products entering commerce each year. We must do the necessary work to end persistent and ubiquitous safety hazards, such as furniture tip-overs, unsafe infant sleep environments and children strangling on window covering cords. We must address complex chronic hazards presented by the ever-present and ever-changing use of toxic chemicals in consumer products. And we must keep pace with technological innovations to adequately anticipate and prevent emerging safety hazards, such as products connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) and fast-moving trends such as electric rideshare scooters.
Despite the enormity of our mission we are asked each year to do the impossible: put a price on the safety of consumer products. When Congress last reauthorized our agency in 2008, it voted overwhelmingly to increase our funding levels annually, authorizing our budget at approximately $136 million for Fiscal Year 2014. Yet, 2014 has come and gone, and we have not been funded at that level despite our budget justifications.
Every year I hear from my colleagues, from members of Congress and from outside parties how they support our agency, how the CPSC has a valuable mission, and how we should be adequately funded. Despite our best, bipartisan efforts, our annual budget has continued to hover around the same amount. That amount is not enough.
For this reason, I could not vote for a budget request that would propose to flat-fund the agency at $127 million for Fiscal Year 2020. Instead, I offered an amendment (see attachment) to increase our request amount to $135 million. In my view, this number reflects the bare minimum needed to continue operations at previous years’ levels. The extra $8 million in my amendment does not consist of controversial or wasteful pet projects. Instead, it would go to projects that our own staff has deemed important to keep the agency fully functional: accounting for payroll inflation at a full staffing level; accounting for the inflation costs of basic agency expenses such as contracts, equipment, rent and security; ensuring our ability to collect critical incident and injury data from e-commerce market platforms and urgent care centers; modernizing our outdated IT systems; and addressing critical IT security deficiencies. As an independent agency, it is the Commission’s duty to vote on and send to Congress a budget request that adequately represents the funds needed to carry out the mission of the agency. My amendment to the budget request would have allowed it to do just that. Unfortunately, my colleagues did not support my amendment, and these important projects continue to remain on an unfunded list in an Appendix.
While the overall funding level is inadequate, we at least voted to resume critical – and overdue – work on a mandatory safety standard to protect children from unstable furniture. I want to thank my colleagues for joining Commissioner Adler and me in recognizing the need to address expeditiously the risks to children posed by these products. While I am disappointed that they did not join us in supporting our amendment proposing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR) for children’s clothing storage units under Section 104 of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) in Fiscal Year 2020, I am pleased that there was unanimous support for an amendment offered by Commissioners Feldman and Baiocco to resume the CPSC’s mandatory rulemaking work under Sections 7 and 9 of the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA) by requiring staff to send a draft NPR on all clothing storage units to the Commission for its consideration in Fiscal Year 2020. This change is an important and necessary step to address the risks associated these products, and I hope we are sending a strong bipartisan signal to the furniture industry that the Commission is serious about solving this problem.
As I have said many times before, CPSC enforcement of the current voluntary standard is one step forward in addressing this hazard, and I applaud Acting Chairman Buerkle for announcing this long-overdue action. I hope this enforcement will be swift and comprehensive, using all the tools Congress has made available to us. But it is not enough. The voluntary standard has several shortcomings that must be addressed either through future revisions or a mandatory standard. Without significant progress made on improving the voluntary standard, including raising the test weight to cover a greater percentage of the known victim population, improving testing to better account for real-world conditions, such as differences in flooring, extended and weighted drawers, dynamic loading and expanding the scope of products covered by the voluntary standard, the Commission must proceed with mandatory rulemaking without delay. Too many children have tragically lost their lives while the technical issues in the voluntary standards process remain unaddressed.
If we believe in keeping consumers safe, and if we believe that the public is best served by an agency that has the resources to act accordingly and appropriately, then we need to stop talking about what we can do to improve this agency and further its mission and actually seek the funds it needs.