WASHINGTON – The agency responsible for inspecting U.S. toys is facing congressional scrutiny after a year with the most toy recalls in history.
The news got worse this month when The Washington Post reported that commission members accepted $60,000 in travel gifts from toy companies,the same industry it regulates.
Members of Congress soon called for the resignation of Chairwoman Nancy Nord,calling the Consumer Product Safety Commission unethical.
Nord defended her travel as “common practice.” She said at a House energy subcommittee hearing Nov. 6 that she would end the practice if Congress would give the agency more money for travel.
Rep. Diana DeGette,D-Colo.,vice chair for the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced she intends to amend draft legislation to prohibit such travel practices.
“It is outrageous that those in charge of ensuring the safety of our products are accepting free travel from the very same industry they are responsible for overseeing,” DeGette said. “While the commissioners are off globe-trotting with industry,children across the country are being exposed to harmful toys.”
Members of Congress say they are determined to pass a bipartisan bill,the Consumer Product Safety Modernization Act,that would increase funding for the CPSC over five years to $100 million from $63 million.
When CPCS was created in 1974,it had a staff of 800 and a budget of $35 million,or $148 million in today's terms. The staff has shrunk to 400.
“Today,the CPSC is a mere shadow of its former self,” said Sally Greenberg,executive director of the National Consumers League,a bipartisan watchdog group.
The commission asked Congress in July for an overhaul of its statutory limits for the first time since 1990. Citing meager funding,inadequate laboratories and a shrinking staff, CPSC officials said the agency needs to modernize to better deal with the $22 billion worth of toys sold each year in the United States.
“The recall process is a terribly flawed and inefficient process,” said Donald Mays,director for product safety planning for Consumer Reports,a Consumers Union publication based in Yonkers,N.Y.
The commission,which is responsible for protecting the public from unreasonable risks from more than 15,000 types of consumer products,employs one full-time inspector to test all of the country's imported toys,according to Mays.
Nord called that an “urban myth.”
“Clearly,the leadership of the Consumer Product Safety Commission has to raise their hand and ask for help,” Mays said. “They need more funding,they need more staff,they need more authority to make sure the products are safe,but they simply seem to lack the will to do that.”
Fifteen CSPC inspectors cover more than 300 U.S. ports,Mays said. Nord said there are about 60.