Captured CPSC, Road Show Edition

nord.jpgThe last time I blogged about Nancy Nord, head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, I thought it would be the last. Certainly anyone caught in the middle of escalating product recalls and public outcry over toy safety would be responsive to efforts to improve the CPSC’s budget and staffing. Consider the following report:

Government statistics show that imports have increased by 338 percent since 1974, the year the Consumer Product Safety Commission was created. Yet the budget for that agency today is less than half what is was in that year. In effect, we have been disarming our ability to protect ourselves, even as the need to do so has been soaring.

chinaimports.jpgBut I was wrong. Nord has instead told Congress not to give the CPSC more funding and enforcement authority. The Washington Post now suggests some reasons why: she and “her predecessor have taken dozens of trips at the expense of the toy, appliance and children’s furniture industries and others they regulate.” Hilton Head, Barcelona, Orlando–ahh, the difficult life of the regulator:

In February, for example, Nord accepted more than $2,000 in travel and accommodations from the Defense Research Institute to attend its meeting in New Orleans on “product litigation trends,” according to her report. The institute is made up of more than 20,000 corporate defense lawyers. In 2004, [her predecessor] Stratton attended the group’s meeting in Barcelona, at a cost to the group of $915 for his hotel room.

The guiding “philosophy” behind the current CPSC appears to be a belief in self-regulation: companies themselves should take primary responsibility for safety. My question is whether, after a case like MVMA v. State Farm, an agency can use a political commitment to libertarianism to trump its extant legal and scientific obligations to protect the public. For example, what if the CPSC just decided that any penalty of, say, more than $100 for death-causing injuries would ultimately be counterproductive because it would discourage reporting? Should courts defer to such “agency expertise”? I’d always hoped such questions would remain mere bizarre hypotheticals, but we appear to be in a world where their relevance increases by the day.

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