In March of this year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission launched a Web site database that allows the public to search for complaints about the safety of everyday products. Called SaferProducts.gov, the database makes public the types of injury and death reports, and assorted hazard complaints, that the commission has gathered for years, but that have been withheld from public discussion. Now consumers can file complaints on the Web site for all types of products except for food, drugs, cosmetics, cars and guns.
The database is the result of legislation in 2008 that gave the commission significantly more authority and money, after an onslaught of recalls, many of them children’s products from China. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 mandated the creation of a consumer product safety information database. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission gave final approval late last year to the new consumer product safety database.
Manufacturers have limited control over what information can be removed or amended once posted. Business groups complain that the agency has not paid sufficient attention to legitimate issues of a manufacturer’s goodwill and reputation, to the costs of unnecessary panic among product consumers, and that the information might be used by plaintiffs’ lawyers in litigation against manufacturers.
But the Republican-dominated House is seeking to prevent the consumer safety information database from operation. The bill just passed out of committee last week would cut CPSC’s overall budget by about $3.5 million—approximately the same amount needed for the database—from FY 2011 levels, and provides that no funds may be used to carry out any of the database activities. It appears the bill will be taken up on the House floor in July.
While consumer groups have opposed the funding cut-off, the majority on the committee agreed with the concern about the risks of unverifiable and inaccurate consumer comments that may be submitted. In the meantime, a 2011 continuing resolution requires the GAO to conduct an analysis of the database.