Welcoming New Leadership at the CPSC

Although it took a while, new leadership has finally come to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. After a flurry of last minute activity—and a rejection of the Administration’s direction concerning new regulations—earlier this week, Elliot Kaye was removed as agency chairman. He has announced that he plans to remain as a commissioner. Commissioner Ann Marie Buerkle, who was recently elected as agency vice chairman, now takes over as Acting Chairman of the agency until a permanent chairman is nominated by the President.

Trained as both a nurse and lawyer, Chairman Buerkle brings the type of experience the statute contemplated when it directed that commissioners be appointed by reason of “background and expertise in areas related to consumer products and protection of the public. . . .” Having a former medical professional lead the agency will be an interesting and useful change of perspective. And as a former Member of Congress from New York (where she served on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform), she can work to mend the current strained relationship the agency has with the Hill.

Unfortunately, Chairman Buerkle will not have a working majority as she seeks to reorient the agency. For readers who keep score, here is the commissioner line-up:

  • Commissioner Marietta Robinson (D) – term ending October 2017
  • Acting Chair Ann Marie Buerkle (R) – term ending October 2018
  • Commissioner Joe Mohorovic (R) – term ending October 2019
  • Commissioner Elliot Kaye (D) – term ending October 2020
  • Commissioner Bob Adler (D) – term ending October 2021

Nevertheless, Chairman Buerkle can make incremental changes even without a working majority of commissioners. Perhaps the most significant would be to let all stakeholders—consumers groups and industry alike—know that their perspectives are valued. Changing the current philosophy with respect to product sellers from “us v. them” could go a long way to bringing the agency back to a collaborative relationship that focuses first and foremost on solving safety problems and less on punishment and distrust.

It was a real pleasure to have Chairman Buerkle as a colleague when I was a member of the commission. She is thoughtful, listens carefully and truly wants to understand how agency actions impact folks outside the beltway. As we have heard before, change is good.

Nancy Nord joined OFW Law after completing an eight-year term as a Commissioner on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, serving from 2005 through 2013. Ms. Nord was Acting Chairman of the CPSC from July 2006 until June 2009.

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