In an uncommon move, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) on Wednesday issued a unilateral press release warning consumers of the need to anchor a particular brand and model of dressers. In its release, the CPSC wrote that it “intends to continue pressing the case for a recall with” the manufacturer.
As we have written before, the CPSC has a variety of options for getting what the agency considers to be important information out to the public, even when companies may dispute the information or disagree with the CPSC’s conclusions. In the 1970s, in the agency’s infancy, the CPSC used these tools frequently. Since then, unilateral, company-specific CPSC statements have been less frequent.
During his 10 years as a commissioner, Acting Chairman Bob Adler has frequently expressed a desire for the agency to return to the more assertive posture it maintained in the 70s. He has called for more use of the agency’s wide array of communications tools, along with greater pushes for mandatory recalls and safety standards.
When he took the chairmanship (for the second time), Adler signaled that, while he would not seek to make sweeping institutional changes, he would push the CPSC’s Office of Compliance to be more assertive in investigating potential defects and pressing for recalls. Wednesday’s statement suggests he will push for a more vocal agency, as well. It should also remind companies engaged with the CPSC in defect investigations that the agency can make these statements in their cases.
While the CPSC’s statutes do require prior notice when the agency wants to talk about a particular company, the only tool to prevent an unfair statement is a lawsuit in open federal court – a cure that may be just as bad as the disease. The law does not require the agency to make its case before any neutral arbiter either before or after, only requiring it to retract any factual errors. The CPSC can even shrink the notice period, reducing the time a company has to make what could be a bet-the-company decision. If Wednesday’s statement is any indication, CPSC-regulated entities should make sure they have the resources in place to make those decisions quickly.