The Checkout

How the CPSC is like an Australian speed skater

Annys Shin

If you never associated the Consumer Product Safety Commission with an Olympic athlete, let alone a gold medal-winning Olympic athlete, the agency has a little video clip to show you.

Yesterday the agency kicked off an all-day meeting to discuss various issues involved in implementing the massive, recently passed product safety law with a recap of Australian Steven Bradbury's unlikely win in the men's 1,000 meter short track event at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Bradbury, to refresh your memory, won after Apolo Anton Ohno, who was favored to win, wiped out along with several other competitors. (Ohno managed to get on his feet and win the silver medal.)

It seemed what CPSC officials identified with most was not Bradbury's large quads or his description afterward of his win as "freakish," but his long experience with being a hardworking underdog. CPSC spokeswoman Julie Vallese quoted Bradbury saying that while he didn't win gold for being the fastest skater, he would accept one for "the hard slog" work that he had put in for years. Like an accidental lifetime achievement award.

Given what CPSC officials presented after the video clip--a crushing timeline of rulemaking and guidelines they have to get done under the new law--I'm not sure what point the CPSCers were trying to make. I think mainly it was "the slog" that they identified with.

And they have a whole lot more slogging in their future. In the midst of the latest bassinet recall, they have been fielding questions mostly from lawyers for various businesses about whether their clients were going to run afoul of the new law in some way. To give you a sample, a guy representing Hallmark talked about how labor and paper-intensive it will be for the greeting card company to include a certificate with every shipment--even the "Just Because" cards--to every retailer that says the products it accompanies meet safety standards.

After he was told the company would have to figure something out, Hallmark man pulled a Darth Vadar--albeit a joking one--and said "Many trees will die" before stepping away from the microphone.

At one point, CPSC compliance director John "Gib" Mullan, seemed to suggest that businesses "might want to think about" exporting overseas inventory they still have that isn't compliant with the new law before a new regulation prohibiting the export of recalled products kicks in. Lest anyone think he might be promoting dumping dangerous products, he later said that destroying products overseas can be cheaper and that exporting recalled products to a third world nation was not acceptable.

Glad he cleared that up!

The gist of the meeting was that the CPSC has a heck of a lot to do and not much time to do it. As a result, acting chairwoman Nancy Nord and Commissioner Thomas Moore have asked Congress for a more rapid infusion of cash so the agency can get going on drafting those rules and guildelines.

The meeting was billed as the first of many forums on the new law. What do you think they should open their next meeting with? A clip from High Noon? Ghostbusters perhaps?

By Annys Shin |  September 5, 2008; 1:20 PM ET Annys Shin
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