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Sen. Maria Cantwell Discusses Investigation Into Consumer Product Safety Commission


The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission failed to protect American consumers. That is what a Senate committee recently concluded in a new report looking into how the agency responded to complaints about three products - a jogging stroller, an inclined baby sleeper and residential elevators. Joining us now to discuss the results of this investigation is Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat from Washington state. She is the ranking Democrat on the Senate committee that has oversight responsibilities over the commission or CPSC. Welcome, Senator.

MARIA CANTWELL: Thank you so much.

CHANG: So tell us, what did your investigation find?

CANTWELL: Well, we need a strong Consumer Product Safety Commission and one that will use its existing tools to protect families - in these cases, children and infants - and that the commission wasn't doing that job. And that is why we issued the report.

CHANG: And how so? How did the commission fail?

CANTWELL: It took a light-touch approach, even though there were commissioners who said we need to be doing more. But we had products that certainly should not have been in the hands of consumers, and they continued to allow companies to get away with having these products available. And what we found is that there were more stringent actions that the commission could have taken that they didn't.

CHANG: Right. One of the items in particular is the BOB jogging stroller, I understand. It's manufactured by a company called Britax. What was the matter with the product? And what happened as a result of the defects?

CANTWELL: These jogging strollers had a fault that would allow the wheel to fall off. And we thought this presented very dangerous conditions for both the joggers and children in the strollers. We wanted the commission to take a stronger action in getting this product off of the market. Instead, the commission just approved a repair kit and told people to watch information videos instead.


CANTWELL: We thought the product showed a lack of effectiveness. And the number of incidents should have led the commission to taking stronger action.

CHANG: One thing that your report mentions is that when there is a recall of products, companies should be offering refunds, not just vouchers for future purchases. Why do you think refunds are so much more preferable than, say, vouchers?

CANTWELL: Well, the issue in some of these cases is that people were offering vouchers, you know, for new purchases...

CHANG: Right.

CANTWELL: ...Of, you know, other product when in reality what we wanted is that product out of the hands of the consumer. And that was the key tool, not a voucher for just, you know, buying more. They want to understand what the product's faults are so that the consumer is - basically, it's out of their hands, not endangering a family member, a young one, and that they actually get compensated for the cost of the product.

CHANG: It is obvious that this is an important issue to you. Do you worry that, you know, with impeachment proceedings taking up all the oxygen in D.C., a report like this, like, actual oversight by Congress just gets ignored?

CANTWELL: I worry about oversight writ large right now.

CHANG: What do you mean by that? Why are you worried about oversight writ large?

CANTWELL: I could give you 12 other areas in which the bright light of day is not being shown on the policies of the administration that are hurting consumers.

CHANG: I mean, are you suggesting that because the impeachment proceedings is front and center, and has been for months, that oversight duties in Congress have just been not only second party but very, very low priority at this point?

CANTWELL: No. No, I wouldn't say that. I would say the amount of activity of not following procedures is one of the hallmarks of this administration. And there is not enough time in any day for people to understand all of the consequences of that. I wish they did because I think they'd have a very clear picture of how the public interest is not being served.

CHANG: Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington state, thank you very much.

CANTWELL: Thank you, Ailsa.

CHANG: And we should add that we did reach out to the Consumer Product Safety Commission regarding this report. They said they have no comment. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.