September 1, 2007

CPSC 'Complete Disaster': Bush Administration Sides With Big Everything On Everything

cpsc_toy_lab_nyt.jpg

I'm running out of pretend-surprise. The NY Times has a damning article about the Consumer Products Safety Commission, which has been systematically weakened, rendered ineffective, and nearly destroyed by the Bush Administration's appointees, who promised their former employers--manufacturers, corporate law and lobbying firms, and industry associations--that the "federal nanny" era was over:

A senior agency official was more blunt. “It is a complete disaster,” said the official, one of nearly a dozen who spoke anonymously because the agency had instructed employees not to talk to reporters. “There is just no other word for it.”

At the agency’s product testing lab, which operates out of a former missile defense radar station in Gaithersburg, Md., the impact of the tight budgets is apparent.

One lab worker used a magnifying glass and a mechanical stop watch to help conduct a fabric flammability experiment — the same equipment she has used for three decades. The toy laboratory, down the hall, is an office so cramped that the only space dedicated to a drop test to see if toys will break into small pieces and cause a choking hazard is the spare space behind the office door. “This is the toy lab for all of America — for all of the United States government!” said Robert L. Hundemer [pictured above, btw], the one agency employee who routinely tests toys, as he held up his arms in the air. “We do what we can.”

THE ONE AGENCY EMPLOYEE WHO ROUTINELY TESTS TOYS uses the royal "we" to make it sound like it's not just him? I think the rest of we are in trouble.

I mean, come on, Mattel has a dozen people just to test Chicken Suit Elmo, and they still end up having to recall 18 million toys this year, with more on the way.

mattel_toy_inspectors_nyt.jpg

The industry line on the CPSC's mission--as expressed by the CPSC's acting chairwoman, former Kodak lobbyist Nancy Nord--is that the agency's really only meant "to protect the public by working with the industry and others to establish voluntary standards."

But as Chinese imports to the US have quadrupled in the last 10 years, that voluntary ideal seems about as healthy as a lead pacifier:

By law, the commission can mandate safety standards only after voluntary measures have failed. Chinese officials and factory owners have said, however, that they do not feel compelled to meet the voluntary standards.

“Time and again, through the translators, they made clear they did not understand this concept,” said Nick Marchica, an engineer and former agency senior aide. “What they told us was, ‘As far as we are concerned, voluntary means we don’t have to.’ ”

Wait, 20% of the products in the US come from China, yet the CPSC doesn't have anyone who speaks Chinese? We are not amused.

Safety Agency Faces Scrutiny Amid Changes [nyt]

4 Comments

"Wait, 20% of the products in the US come from China, yet the CPSC doesn't have anyone who speaks Chinese?"

No kidding. They ought to have a significant lab and office over there. They should be doing site visits at factories. (The Chinese gov't probably wouldn't like that, but then again it might shame them into doing something themselves.) The best time to catch problems is before they get distributed to consumers. The CPSC is lucky to find a problem a few years after it gets distributed, and too many importers are doing a shitty job with their Asian QC operations (or not bothering with QC at all).

My daughter has helpfully taken up the mantle as the nation's second drop-tester. We were at B"R"U yesterday; every toy that broke when she dropped it off the cart wasn't purchased. (For all you statisticians out there, we had a 4:7 broken-toys-to-intact-toys ratio.) If our taxes aren't going to the big bad federal nanny, I guess we'll just need to take matters into our own (kids') hands.

I don't know about all products, but WAY more than 20% of all toys come from China.

20% of the products in the US come from China? What? I think 90% of the products in the US come from China! Communist country that took a lot of our manufacturing jobs. Is the US gonna go communist as well?

[maybe 90% of the products you buy at Wal-Mart come from China, but unless you have a citation for data, I'll stick with the government figures published in the NY Times. Also, damn those commie CEO's for their outsourcing! And all those bargainhunting commie consumers, too. oh wait... -ed.]

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