SaferProducts.gov, a new governemnt database administered by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) launched last month. It provides for receiving consumer complaints of harm related to the use of consumer products and posting vetted information on the agency's web site. The web site also provides a separate form for businesses to enter reports of product hazards.
The impetus for it's creation came after a series of product recalls in 2007, especially of dangersous toys imported from China. Before the SaferProducts .com consumers had to file FOIA (freedom of Information) request to get early information re. reports of hazardous products unless the commision had issued a report on the product. Frequently, too much time passed and further injuries occured under this arrangement.
The law (P.L 110-314) requires that the database be publically available, searchable and accessible through the CPSC's website. It also includes several procedural safeguards to foster accuracy and balance in the published information between consumers and the businesses providing the products.
This is a summary of how the incoming complaints are handled :
"...The CPSC has up to 5 days to review a report to ensure that it does not offer materially inaccurate or insubstantial information. If the report is adequate, the CPSC will refer the report to the product’s manufacturer. The manufacturer then has 10 days to address the complaint and, if it chooses, can post its response in the database."
"After this review process, the original consumer complaint and any manufacturer response is made public online. Information about mandatory or voluntary recalls of the product will also appear in the database. CPSC has said that submitted reports will not become public if they are incomplete, “materially inaccurate,” or expose confidential information. Reports submitted anonymously will also not be made public."
Legislative challenges to the database have been mounted by legislators like Representative Barton of Texas who claimed that: ( Page: H1321 )
"...According to the staff proposal, if the Commission cannot complete its review within 10 days, it would publish the information and remove it at a later date if warranted at the conclusion of its investigation. This process would provide little or no protection for confidential information and will encourage the publication of inaccurate and misleading information. Once the information is public, competitors can learn trade secrets and media can disseminate materially inaccurate information with little hope that the error could be rectified in the future. Congress did not intend such a result, ..." (in a letter dated November 23, 2010, sent to the chairman of the CPSC )
However, the law itself that was the result of a House/ Senate conference committee, allows for the possibility of posted information being corrected after the fact.
A section of the law states : ‘‘(B) INACCURATE INFORMATION IN DATABASE.—If the Commission determines, after investigation, that information previously made available in the database is materially inaccurate or duplicative of information in the database,the Commission shall, not later than 7 business days aftersuch determination — ‘‘(i) remove such information from the database; ‘‘(ii) correct such information; or ‘‘(iii) add information to correct inaccurate information in the database."
The law also makes it clear that complete accuracy cannot be guanteed, another part of the law states :
‘‘(5) NOTICE REQUIREMENTS.—The Commission shall provide clear and conspicuous notice to users of the database that the Commission does not guarantee the accuracy, completeness,or adequacy of the contents of the database."
So it appears that Congress as a whole, through it's conference committee, did not see these potential correctable errors, as a reason not to go forward with the database as designed, to favor timely warning to consumers, even at a temporary cost to the affected businesses.
The law also requires an annual report to the relevant congressional committees and an assesment by the Government Accontability Office (GAO) after two years of the launch of the SaferProducts.gov database. We will have to see whether that assessment either blunts or increases the attempts to unfund the database.