US House crimps consumer safety database money

Consumer safety database would provide mostly open information on tons of regularly consumed products

In a move that reeks of party politics and lobbyist influence, the US House this week made moves to gut the funding of  an online database that was to become a repository for consumer safety information three weeks before it was to debut.

The database is required as part of the over-arching Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act,  passed in 2008 that was supposed to put some teeth in the Consumer Product Safety Commission overseeing the database.  Once in the public domain, consumers will be able to search the product safety complaints of thousands of consumer products.

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From the commission: "The database was established in order to inform consumers of pending product safety complaints during the CPSC investigation period, which sometimes takes years. Currently, if the CPSC believes that a product may be defective or dangerous enough to be pulled from the market; it must negotiate a recall with the product's manufacturer, which can take months or even years. In the meantime, consumers can unwittingly continue to buy the defective and dangerous product and, until now, the only way for consumers to access product safety complaints was to file a public-records request with the CPSC and, before the CPSC can release any information about a product, it must consult with the product's manufacturer, who can protest or sue to prevent disclosure of product safety information. Under the new system, consumer complaints will be posted for public disclosure within 15 days.  Anyone filing a complaint must identify themselves, but the complainant's identity will not be published in the database and will only be disclosed to the manufacturer if the consumer consents. The database will only include information about product defects that could cause injury or death and will not include complaints about reliability or quality. The database is also restricted to the types of consumer goods overseen by the CPSC, which does not include food, drugs, medical devices, cosmetics, tobacco, automobiles or tires. Consumer advocates are hailing the database as "a resource that will revolutionize the way people make buying decisions."

But that sort of revolution scares quite a few people apparently.

From the "As part of the spending bill that passed the House on Feb. 19, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) won support for a measure to withhold money to implement the system, which is set to launch March 11. The database, which was welcomed by consumer advocates, would make public thousands of complaints received by the Consumer Product Safety Commission each year about safety problems with products, from table lamps to baby strollers.  Pompeo, backed by groups representing manufacturers, said the database would be filled with fictitious or inaccurate claims and place new financial burdens on U.S. businesses. "This will drive jobs overseas," Pompeo said during floor debate on his amendment. 'It will increase the cost for manufacturers and consumers.'"

From the "It remains far from certain that House members will succeed in cutting the budget for the consumer database or scaling back consumer product regulations. Democrats retain the majority in the Senate and are determined to block such measures.  Nonetheless, the battle over consumer regulations is one slice of a much larger war being waged in Congress to determine how much the federal budget should be slashed and where to make the cuts.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission - never popular with manufacturers - is a ripe target."

From "A database full of error and inflammatory reports does not serve the interest of consumers or safety, it serves only the interests of the litigation industry and "consumer activists" who thrive by keeping the public in the state of constant alarm."

How this all plays out remains to be seen of course as the database is but a small part of the US budget wrangling going on in Washington.  

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8   

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