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Wayne Parsons
Wayne Parsons
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GAO to CPSC: Get A Better Plan To Protect Consumers

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Cecelia Prewett of the American Association of Justice has written an interesting and informative article about the (lack of) effectiveness of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) at its job of protecting consumers. New GAO Report Concludes CPSC Needs Better Plan to Protect Consumers. Ms. Prewett summarizes the key issue raised by the GAO Report as protection of Americans from defective foreign products like the Chinese Drywall and the Melamine from China that have made headlines this year:

According to a new report released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) lacks a long-term plan to prevent entry of unsafe foreign products into the country. The report talks about how the agency relies heavily on U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to identify potentially unsafe products, even though CBP is responsible for enforcing regulations from 45 other federal agencies, including antiterrorism and trade responsibilities. The Washington Post and Sarasota Herald-Tribune covered the report.

The GAO report is the latest in a growing number of complaints about defective products injuring U.S. citizens with little recourse against foreign manufacturers. The Washington Post reports that:

Under a 2002 agreement between the entities, the commission has asked Customs and Border Protection for access to certain information, called "manifest data," that describes cargo coming into the country. The commission would receive information about products in a shipment before it arrives in the United States.

The report says the information has not been provided because Customs and Border Protection did not deem it specific enough for the consumer agency’s purposes. Seven years later, the agencies have not yet worked out access. The new report says both agencies have work to do to resolve the issue.

"That advanced notice, combined with other data that they have, would help them better identify risks before the products enter the country," said Philip Curtin, a senior analyst at the GAO. Although the information is not perfect, it would certainly be better than not having it, the congressional investigators said.

In comparison, the Food and Drug Administration receives the advance shipment information from Customs, which enforces regulations for about 45 federal agencies.

The product safety commission has come under pressure in the last few years over the increasing number of recalled lead-tainted products, many from China. From 1998 to 2007, the value of consumer products imported into the United States about doubled, according to the investigators. Products from China nearly quadrupled over that time, making up about 42 percent of all imported consumer goods.

Legislation is in Congress to improve consumer protection from these products.The Foreign Manufacturers Legal Accountability Act of 2009 (S. 1606), introduced by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), and Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) mandates that if a foreign manufacturer who wants to sell its products in the U.S., it must have an “agent” located in the U.S. that would accept service of process for any civil and regulatory claims, thereby consenting to state and federal jurisdiction.

Drywall From China Causes Concern Over Sulfur Odor In Homes – By Wayne Parsons

The issue also exists in regard to food safety with the Food & Drug Administration (FDA):

Melamine Contamination, Food Poisoning and Foreign Products – By Wayne Parsons

Even if the companies are subject to the U.S. Courts it is often very difficult to collect against a wrongdoer from Asia. Stay tuned to this story as it heralds the new age of a world economy with U.S. manufacturing heading more and more to Asia.