Consumer Safety:

Better Information and Planning Would Strengthen CPSC's Oversight of Imported Products

GAO-09-803: Published: Aug 14, 2009. Publicly Released: Aug 14, 2009.

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The growing volume of consumer products imported into the United States has strained the resources of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), challenging the agency to find new ways to ensure the safety of these products. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) mandated that GAO assess the effectiveness of CPSC's authorities over imported products. GAO's objectives were to (1) determine what is known about CPSC's effectiveness in using these authorities, (2) compare CPSC's authorities with those of selected U.S. agencies and international entities, and (3) evaluate CPSC's plans to prevent the entry of unsafe consumer products. To address these objectives, GAO analyzed CPSC and other agencies' and entities' authorities, reviewed literature on consumer product safety, and compared CPSC's planning efforts with criteria for effective planning practices.

GAO found broad consensus that CPSC's authorities over imported consumer products have the potential to be effective. However, CPSC has made limited progress in measuring the effectiveness of its authorities, and CPSC's ability to implement these authorities has been constrained by competing priorities and limited resources, as well as by delays in implementing key provisions of CPSIA. CPSC's presence at U.S. ports is limited and, in order to identify potentially unsafe products, it must work closely with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which faces pressure to quickly move shipments into commerce. CPSC does not have access to key CBP import data it could use to target incoming shipments for inspection, and it has not updated its agreements with CBP to clarify each agency's roles and responsibilities. CPSC's activities at U.S. ports could be strengthened by better targeting incoming shipments for inspection and by improving CPSC's coordination with CBP. Otherwise, CPSC may not be able to carry out key inspection activities efficiently or to effectively leverage its enforcement priorities with CBP. Select federal agencies and foreign governments provide lessons for strengthening CPSC's implementation of its authorities, particularly with respect to border surveillance and information sharing among countries. Both USDA and FDA have more robust border surveillance activities than CPSC because they obtain more data on incoming shipments, have more staff working at U.S. ports, use more developed programs to target risks, and use information technology systems that are integrated with other agency-based and CBP systems to effectively leverage their enforcement priorities with CBP. Other agencies have found that timely CBP import data integrated with other agency surveillance data is useful in screening incoming shipments for potential safety violations. In addition, officials at FDA and USDA have found that efforts to educate overseas industries and governments on U.S. safety standards could reduce the number of unsafe products that reach U.S. consumers. GAO also found broad consensus that continued coordination and information sharing among governments and multilateral organizations can improve the effectiveness of product safety frameworks. CPSC has increased its efforts to coordinate with these other entities, particularly China, but lacks a comprehensive plan for international engagement. CPSC has established annual plans, but lacks a long-term plan with key goals to prevent the entry of unsafe products. CPSC has not yet updated its agencywide Strategic Plan to reflect new authorities granted in CPSIA. This may inhibit CPSC's ability to appropriately allocate any potential increases in agency resources or to address the safety of imported products through international means. An updated Strategic Plan may also help to ensure that CPSC has the requisite compliance and analytical staff to support the full range of CPSC's international efforts.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has established a substantial product hazard list at 16 C.F.R. part 1120 in accordance with section 15(j) of the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA) as amended by the Consumer Product Safety improvement Act (CPSIA). The Consumer Product Safety Commission finalized rules for two products on that list (1) hand held hair dryers without integral immersion protection (76 Fed. Reg. 37636 (June 28, 2011)) and (2)children's outerwear with drawstrings (76 Fed. Reg. 42502(July 19, 2011)). On May 17, 2010, CPSC issued proposed rules for placing two products - (1) hairdryers without devices intended to prevent electrocution and (2) children's hooded sweatshirts with drawstrings - on a list of products constituting a "substantial product hazard" to consumers and thus eligible to be refused admission into U.S. commerce without a full administrative hearing. In December 2009, CPSC voted to extend a stay of enforcement on testing and certification requirements for many regulated children's products, including those subject to lead content limits. However, it voted to lift the stay for certain other products, including bicycle helmets, bunk beds, and rattles. Third party testing and certification requirements for children's products under section 14(a) of the CPSA are no longer stayed. The Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a final rule on requirements pertaining to third party conformity assessment bodies on March 12, 2013 (78 Fed. Reg. 15836). On November 8, 2011, the Consumer Product Safety Commission finalized rules on testing and labeling pertaining to product certification (76 Fed. Reg. 69482) and component part testing (76 Fed. Reg. 69546).

    Recommendation: To ensure that CPSC is able to exercise its full authority to prevent the entry of unsafe consumer products into the United States, the CPSC should ensure expeditious implementation of key provisions of CPSIA, including establishing the substantial product hazard list and implementing testing and certification requirements that are subject to stay of enforcement until February 2010, and complete its rulemaking as required under the act.

    Agency Affected: Consumer Product Safety Commission

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has made steady progress in meeting the requirement laid out in the CPSIA through three key efforts. First, CPSC is cooperating with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commercial Targeting and Analysis Center (CTAC). Specifically, two CPSC staff members are stationed full-time at this targeting center. CPSC has taken a leadership role at the targeting center through creation of an analytical methodology that targets known violators and monitors them for a set period of time. This targeting methodology synchronizes CBP and CPSC data systems and updates a list of entities to target. This process has consistently yielded some of the highest entry discrepancy rates ever seen at CBP. Second, through its Risk Assessment Methodology (RAM) Pilot data system, CPSC has successfully tested the capability to capture, process and inform CPSC port inspectors of shipments to examine with a limited delay. To date, the pilot system has targeted and CPSC investigators have processed over 5,000 examinations (approximately 25% of annual expectations), as well as risk scored over 3 million entries. Third, for international coordination, CPSC has developed and issues a quarterly stoppage report, which industry and consumer groups have found useful. While resources for this effort have been limited, staff has begun considering efficiencies that may be available through industry supply chain best practices. CPSC and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have updated a memorandum of understanding to resolve issues for obtaining access to advance shipment data. The MOU was signed by CPSC and CBP officials on April 26, 2010. CPSC staff have also stated that, as of February 2, 2010, the agency has a staff member stationed full-time at a new CBP targeting center called the Commercial Targeting and Analysis Center, located in Washington, D.C. CPSC reports that it continues to work on developing a formal risk assessment methodology for identifying imported consumer products on which to focus. Finally, during a March 4, 2010, hearing before the House Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, CPSC's Chairman stated that CPSC is considering "rolling over" $200 million from its FY 2010 budget into FY 2011 to create a risk management system to analyze advance shipment data.

    Recommendation: To strengthen CPSC's ability to prevent the entry of unsafe products into the United States, the Chairman and commissioners of CPSC should take actions to improve the agency's ability to target shipments for further screening and review at U.S. ports of entry. (1) To ensure that it has appropriate data and procedures to prevent entry of unsafe products into the United States, the CPSC should update agreements with CBP to clarify each agency's roles and to resolve issues for obtaining access to advance shipment data; and (2) to improve its targeting decisions and build its risk-analysis capability, the CPSC should (a) work with CBP, as directed under CPSIA through the planned targeting center for health and safety issues, to develop the capacity to analyze advance shipment data; and (b) link data CPSC gathers from surveillance activities and from international education and outreach activities to further target incoming shipments.

    Agency Affected: Consumer Product Safety Commission

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our August 2009 report about the Consumer Product Safety Commission's (CPSC) legal authorities over imported consumer products (GAO-09-803), we stated that better long-term planning would strengthen CSPS's oversight over imported products. To provide for better long-term planning, we recommended that CPSC update its strategic plan and include in this update a comprehensive plan for its Office of International Programs and Intergovernmental Affairs to work with foreign governments. CPSC has issued an updated strategic plan covering 2011-2016. Under the first goal of the plan--leadership in safety--CPSC is seeking to create and strengthen partnerships with domestic and international stakeholders aimed at improving product safety throughout the supply chain. Under the second goal of the plan--commitment to prevention--CPSC is seeking to engage foreign product safety regulators and foreign manufacturers to reduce the production of unsafe consumer products that may enter the U.S. market. Although the updated strategic plan does not include a comprehensive plan for the Office of International Programs and Intergovernmental Affairs as we recommended, that office has separately developed and issued plans for addressing consumer product safety on a country-specific and regional basis. For example, in September 2009, the Office of International Programs and Intergovernmental Affairs issued, for internal use only, a China Program Plan. Similarly, in May 2010, it issued a draft Europe Program Plan and a draft North American Program Plan. These program plans address the intent of our recommendation that CPSC educate foreign manufacturers about U.S. product safety standards and best practices and coordinate the development of effective international frameworks for consumer product safety. CPSC has incorporated these plans into its 2012 Operating Plan. With an updated strategic plan, related country and region-specific plans, and recent operating plan, CPSC has undertaken better long-term planning for its import safety work.

    Recommendation: To provide better long-term planning for its import safety work and to account for new authorities granted in CPSIA, the CPSC should expeditiously update its agencywide Strategic Plan. In updating its Strategic Plan, the CPSC should consider the impact of its enhanced surveillance of the marketplace and at U.S. ports as discussed above and determine whether requisite analytical and laboratory staff are in place to support any increased activity that may occur at U.S. ports. Furthermore, the CPSC's Strategic Plan should include a comprehensive plan for the Office of International Programs and Intergovernmental Affairs to work with foreign governments in bilateral and multilateral environments to (1) educate foreign manufacturers about U.S. product safety standards and best practices, and (2) coordinate on development of effective international frameworks for consumer product safety.

    Agency Affected: Consumer Product Safety Commission

 

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