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Consumer Product Safety Commission: Actions Needed to Improve Processes for Addressing Product Defect Cases

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2020-11-19.

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                United States Government Accountability Office
                Report to Congressional Requesters




                CONSUMER
November 2020




                PRODUCT SAFETY
                COMMISSION

                Actions Needed to
                Improve Processes
                for Addressing
                Product Defect Cases




GAO-21-56
                                              November 2020

                                              CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY COMMISSION
                                              Actions Needed to Improve Processes for Addressing
                                              Product Defect Cases
Highlights of GAO-21-56, a report to
congressional requesters




Why GAO Did This Study                        What GAO Found
CPSC is responsible for ensuring the          The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has recently taken steps
safety of thousands of consumer               intended to strengthen its processes for addressing consumer product defect
products ranging from children’s toys         cases, such as by developing a web portal to facilitate firms’ participation in its
to off-road recreational vehicles.            Fast Track program for expedited recalls. However, GAO found several areas in
                                              which CPSC could improve how it responds to consumer product hazards:
GAO was asked to review CPSC’s
processes for addressing product              •   Prioritizing resources. CPSC does not follow steps described in its
safety hazards. Among other                       procedures for prioritizing resources for newly opened cases based on the
objectives, this report examines the              potential risk to consumer safety associated with a product. Establishing and
extent to which CPSC has (1) taken                following specific procedures for prioritizing new cases based on relevant
steps to prioritize and address product           case-specific factors, such as the potential risk to consumer safety, could
safety hazards in a timely and efficient          help ensure CPSC staff consistently allocate staff resources to cases based
manner; (2) overseen firms’                       on these factors. CPSC staff conduct “recall effectiveness checks,” such as
compliance with corrective action plans           by confirming that recalled products were removed from shelves and that
and taken steps to address                        appropriate signage was placed in stores for consumers to see. However,
noncompliance; and (3) taken steps to             GAO found that CPSC does not consistently assign more checks to higher-
assess the effectiveness of different             risk recalls. By developing more formal written procedures on how to
types of corrective actions.
                                                  determine how many checks to assign, CPSC could provide staff with tools
GAO reviewed CPSC policies and                    to more effectively prioritize resources to higher-risk cases.
procedures, prior GAO reports, and            •   Ensuring compliance with reporting requirements. CPSC does not
other published studies. GAO also                 centrally track whether firms undertaking recalls have submitted required
interviewed CPSC commissioners and                monthly progress reports. GAO found that only 61 percent of firms had
staff, legal experts, and                         submitted their progress reports more than 75 percent of the time for recalls
representatives from consumer and                 closed between February 2016 and May 2020. Taking steps to ensure firms’
industry organizations.                           compliance with the monthly reporting requirement could improve CPSC’s
What GAO Recommends                               ability to monitor the status of product recalls.
                                              •   Measuring recall effectiveness. CPSC uses one performance metric to
GAO is making five recommendations                assess the effectiveness of recalls—the correction rate. This metric
to CPSC to improve its processes for              represents the proportion of product units recalled that have been refunded,
prioritizing resources, overseeing firms’         replaced, or repaired. However, using a single measure may not allow CPSC
compliance, measuring recall                      to accurately gauge the effectiveness of all its recalls—for example, for
effectiveness, and managing the                   cheap products consumers may simply throw away (rather than seek a
timeliness of product defect cases.
                                                  refund or replacement) in response to the recall. Using additional
CPSC generally agreed with GAO’s
                                                  performance measures could help CPSC more accurately assess the
findings and said it supported the
recommendations.
                                                  effectiveness of product recalls.
                                              •   Managing timeliness. CPSC uses the same timeliness goals for all of its
                                                  product defect cases, although complex cases take significantly longer.
                                                  These timeliness goals do not account for the significant variability in how
                                                  long it takes staff to conduct key stages of a product defect investigation. As
                                                  a result, CPSC’s timeliness goals for certain stages of product defect cases
                                                  may not be an effective tool for managing more complex cases.



View GAO-21-56. For more information,
contact Alicia Puente Cackley at (202) 512-
8678 or cackleya@gao.gov.

                                                                                       United States Government Accountability Office
Contents


Letter                                                                                    1
               Background                                                                 3
               CPSC Has Taken Steps Intended to Improve Efficiency but Issues
                 Remain with Timeliness Goals and Prioritization for Product
                 Defect Cases                                                           10
               CPSC Relies on Voluntary Corrective Actions More Frequently
                 Than Mandatory Corrective or Enforcement Actions                       15
               CPSC’s Oversight of Firms’ Compliance with Corrective Action
                 Plans Could Be Improved                                                21
               CPSC Has Identified Best Practices for Recalls but Its Efforts to
                 Assess the Effectiveness of Corrective Actions Have Limitations        27
               Conclusions                                                              29
               Recommendations for Executive Action                                     31
               Agency Comments                                                          31

Appendix I     Objectives, Scope, and Methodology                                       33



Appendix II    Overview of CPSC’s Process for Addressing Hazards Associated with
               Regulated Products
                                                                                        37



Appendix III   CPSC Participation in the Development of Voluntary Standards             39



Appendix IV    Comments from the Consumer Product Safety Commission                     42



Appendix V     GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments                                    43


Tables
               Table 1: CPSC Congressional Appropriations and Funded Staffing
                       Levels, Fiscal Years 2015–2020                                     5
               Table 2: Hazard Classifications and Definitions for CPSC Product
                       Defect Cases                                                       9




               Page i                           GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
          Table 3: Key CPSC Timeliness Goals for Product Defect Cases,
                  Fiscal Year 2019                                                12
          Table 4: Examples of Product Recall Cases that Illustrate
                  Variation in Number of Recall Effectiveness Checks by
                  Recall Characteristics                                          23

Figures
          Figure 1: Consumer Product Safety Commission Organizational
                   Chart, as of September 2020                                      4
          Figure 2: Overview of Decision Making-Process for Product Defect
                   Cases                                                            8
          Figure 3: Timeliness Performance Goals and Results for Product
                   Defect Cases (Fiscal Years 2016–2019)                          13
          Figure 4: Notices of Violation Sent by CPSC, 2016–2019                  16
          Figure 5: CPSC Proposed Corrective Actions for Regulated
                   Product Violations, 2016–2019                                  17
          Figure 6: Consumer Product Safety Commission Civil Penalties,
                   2010–2019                                                      19
          Figure 7: Recall Effectiveness Check Process                            22
          Figure 8: First Four Stages of CPSC’s Process for Addressing
                   Hazards Associated with Regulated Products, as of
                   September 2020                                                 38




          Page ii                         GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
Abbreviations

CAP                                 corrective action plan
CPSA                                Consumer Product Safety Act
CPSC                                Consumer Product Safety Commission
Compliance                          Office of Compliance and Field Operations
PD                                  preliminary determination
REC                                 recall effectiveness check
section 15 manual                   Section 15 Defect Investigation Procedures
                                    Manual




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Page iii                                  GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
                       Letter




441 G St. N.W.
Washington, DC 20548




                       November 19, 2020

                       The Honorable Richard Blumenthal
                       Ranking Member
                       Subcommittee on Manufacturing, Trade, and Consumer Protection
                       Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
                       United States Senate

                       The Honorable Edward Markey
                       United States Senate

                       The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is charged with
                       protecting U.S. consumers from unreasonable risks of injury and death
                       from consumer products. CPSC has broad jurisdiction over thousands of
                       types of consumer products representing $1.6 trillion in consumption,
                       including off-road recreational vehicles and hazardous substances. Some
                       products under CPSC’s jurisdiction are regulated—that is, subject to
                       mandatory standards established by CPSC through regulations. Many
                       other products are subject to voluntary standards, which are generally
                       determined by standard-development organizations, with input from
                       government representatives and industry groups.

                       To address product safety hazards it identifies, CPSC can establish new
                       standards, recall hazardous products, engage in consumer outreach, or
                       take legal action against product manufacturers. In fiscal year 2019,
                       CPSC coordinated 259 voluntary recalls affecting approximately 20
                       million product units. 1 Despite its broad jurisdiction, CPSC is a relatively
                       small agency with just over 500 full-time equivalent employees as of
                       September 2020.

                       You asked us to review CPSC’s processes for addressing product safety
                       hazards, including its development and oversight of corrective action
                       plans, which document the actions firms are to take to carry out a product
                       recall. Specifically, this report examines the extent to which CPSC has (1)
                       taken steps to prioritize and address product safety hazards in a timely
                       and efficient manner; (2) used different types of corrective actions,
                       enforcement actions, and standards; (3) overseen firms’ compliance with
                       corrective action plans and taken steps to address noncompliance; and


                       1Consumer  Product Safety Commission, Fiscal Year 2019 Annual Performance Report
                       (Bethesda, MD: Feb. 10, 2020).



                       Page 1                                GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
(4) assessed the effectiveness of different types of corrective actions and
incorporated best practices.

To address our first objective, we reviewed CPSC’s policies and
procedures, such as CPSC’s manual that outlines its processes for
managing product defect cases. We also reviewed CPSC’s performance
goal reports for fiscal years 2016–2019 that showed how CPSC
performed relative to its timeliness goals. To obtain additional information
and perspectives on CPSC’s process and practices, we interviewed
CPSC staff responsible for managing key aspects of its product recall
processes.

To address our second objective, we reviewed CPSC data and
documentation for CPSC’s use of corrective actions and standards. To
describe CPSC’s use of corrective actions from 2016 through 2019, we
reviewed product defect case data from CPSC’s Dynamic Case
Management System. To describe how frequently CPSC participated in
developing voluntary standards and promulgated new mandatory
standards, we reviewed CPSC operating plans for fiscal years 2016
through 2020 and documentation on mandatory product rulemakings from
January 2016 through June 2020. To identify factors that may have
affected CPSC’s use of corrective actions, enforcement actions and
standards, we reviewed CPSC’s annual operating plans, performance
reports, and other relevant documentation. We also interviewed CPSC
officials and staff.

To address our third objective, we reviewed CPSC’s policies and
practices for monitoring firms’ compliance with corrective action plans,
such as relevant sections of CPSC’s manual that describe how staff
should manage recalls. To obtain information about steps CPSC has
taken to monitor corrective action plans in accordance with its policies, we
analyzed CPSC’s recall monitoring data for cases closed between
January 2016 and May 2020. In addition, to describe whether recall
effectiveness checks were conducted appropriately, and whether all
monthly progress reports were submitted, we selected a non-
generalizable sample of 25 recall cases and reviewed monthly progress
reports and data on recall effectiveness checks for these cases. We
selected this sample from a data set of 78 recall cases closed between
January 2016 and May 2020.

To address our fourth objective, we reviewed CPSC’s Annual
Performance Reports and other documentation related to CPSC’s
assessment of recall effectiveness. We reviewed documentation on


Page 2                             GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
             CPSC’s efforts to consider and incorporate best practices for
             implementing recalls, such as presentations by the National Highway
             Traffic Safety Administration, Federal Trade Commission, Department of
             Agriculture, and Food and Drug Administration from a 2017 workshop
             CPSC hosted. We interviewed CPSC officials for information and
             perspectives about CPSC’s efforts in these areas.

             We assessed the reliability of CPSC data by reviewing relevant
             documentation, interviewing CPSC officials about steps taken to ensure
             the accuracy of the data, and testing the data for omissions and errors.
             We found these data reliable for obtaining information about CPSC’s
             efforts to manage the timeliness of its process phases and activities and
             assessing how staff monitor recall cases. Appendix I provides additional
             details on our scope and methodology.

             We conducted this performance audit from November 2019 to November
             2020 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing
             standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to
             obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for
             our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe
             that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings
             and conclusions based on our audit objectives.

             The Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA) created CPSC to regulate
Background   consumer products and address those that pose an unreasonable risk of
             injury; assist consumers in evaluating the comparative safety of consumer
             products; and promote research and investigation into the causes and
             prevention of product-related deaths, injuries, and illnesses. 2 CPSC is
             empowered to carry out these goals through a combination of monitoring,
             research, standard-setting, and enforcement.

             CPSC is an independent regulatory commission with a maximum of five
             members, one of whom serves as the Commission’s Chair. 3 The
             Commission’s staff are organized into six main offices and a number of
             suboffices (see fig. 1).




             215   U.S.C. §§2051-2089.
             315U.S.C. § 2053(a). As of October 2020, CPSC was led by four commissioners, one of
             whom was serving as the Acting Chairman.




             Page 3                                 GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
Figure 1: Consumer Product Safety Commission Organizational Chart, as of September 2020




                                       In fiscal year 2020, CPSC’s budget was $132.5 million, which provided
                                       funding for 539 full-time equivalent employees. 4 Table 1 shows CPSC’s
                                       budgetary appropriations and authorized staffing levels from 2015-2020.




                                       4ConsolidatedAppropriations Act, 2020, Pub. L. 116-93, Division B, Title V, 133 Stat.
                                       2459-60 (2019).




                                       Page 4                                   GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
Table 1: CPSC Congressional Appropriations and Funded Staffing Levels, Fiscal
Years 2015–2020

Fiscal year                                  Appropriations ($ millions)       Full-time equivalent
                                                                                        employees
2015                                                                   123                     535
2016                                                                   125                     549
2017                                                                   126                     552
2018                                                                   126                     530
2019                                                                   127                     520
2020                                                                 132.5                     539
Source: Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) | GAO-21-56




In addition to authorities granted under the CPSA, CPSC has broad
authority to identify, assess, and address hazards associated with
consumer products under laws that include the following:

•     The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 amended
      the CPSA to expand CPSC’s authorities to address consumer product
      safety risks by strengthening CPSC’s authority to enforce product
      safety standards and increasing civil penalties for statutory violations.
•     The Flammable Fabrics Act authorizes CPSC to prescribe
      flammability standards for clothing, upholstery, and fabrics. 5
•     The Federal Hazardous Substances Act establishes the framework
      for the regulation of substances that are toxic, corrosive, combustible,
      or otherwise hazardous. 6




515 U.S.C. §§ 1191-1204. The authority for enforcing the Flammable Fabrics Act was
transferred to CPSC by the CPSA in 1972. Pub. L. No. 92-573, § 30, 86 Stat. at 1231
(1972).
615 U.S.C. §§ 1261-1278a. Under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, CPSC is
authorized to declare a substance to be hazardous and regulate the labeling of
substances declared to be hazardous. 15 U.S.C. §§ 1261-1262. The authority for
enforcing the Federal Hazardous Substances Act was transferred to CPSC by the CPSA
in 1972. Pub. L. No. 92-573, § 30, 86 Stat. at 1231 (1972).




Page 5                                                 GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
Other laws provide CPSC with authorities to prescribe performance
standards for specific consumer products. 7

When carrying out activities under the authority of these laws, CPSC is
concerned with products that may pose a substantial product hazard to
the public. The CPSA defines a substantial product hazard as a failure to
comply with an applicable consumer product safety rule under the CPSA
or a similar rule, regulation, standard or ban under any other act
administered by the Commission that creates a substantial risk of injury to
the public, or a product defect that creates “a substantial risk of injury to
the public.” 8 Manufacturers, importers, distributors, and retailers of
consumer products must notify the Commission immediately if they obtain
information that reasonably supports the conclusion that a product fails to
comply with a product safety standard on which the Commission has
relied; fails to comply with any rule, regulation, standard, or ban under the
CPSA or any other act enforced by the Commission; contains a defect
that could create a substantial product hazard; or creates an
unreasonable risk of serious injury or death. 9 CPSC also can identify
products that may pose a substantial product hazard from other sources,
such as reports of injuries from hospitals and consumer complaints.

When working to identify, assess, and address substantial product
hazards, CPSC generally handles two types of cases:

•     Regulated product cases. These involve products under CPSC’s
      jurisdiction that are subject to mandatory standards prescribed in
      statutes and regulations. 10 These include federal rules that define
      requirements certain consumer products must meet before they may




7These  additional laws include the Poison Prevention Packaging Act of 1970, 15 U.S.C.
§§ 1471-1477; the Refrigerator Safety Act of 1956, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1211-1214; the Virginia
Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act of 2007, 15 U.S.C. §§ 8001-8008; the Children’s
Gasoline Burn Prevention Act of 2008, 15 U.S.C. § 2056 note; and the Child Safety
Protection Act of 1994, 15 U.S.C. §1278.
815   U.S.C. § 2064(a).
9   15 U.S.C. § 2064(b).
10See app. II for an overview of CPSC’s process for addressing hazards associated with
regulated products.




Page 6                                  GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
    be manufactured, imported, distributed, or sold in the United States. 11
    Examples of products with such requirements include children’s toys
    (which must meet standards for chemical and lead content) and
    garage door operators (which must employ entrapment protection
    mechanisms). 12 In a regulated product case, CPSC is authorized to
    initiate a recall when the agency determines that the firm’s product
    constitutes a substantial product hazard through violation of an
    existing statute or regulation.
•   Product defect cases. These involve products that are not covered
    by specific regulations and may be subject to voluntary product safety
    standards. 13 Most voluntary standards are developed by private
    sector standard-developing organizations with input from industry
    stakeholders, consumer advocates, and government agencies. In a
    product defect case, CPSC must demonstrate, through the collection
    of evidence, that a product presents a substantial product hazard.
    Product defect cases are generally more complex than regulated
    product cases because CPSC lacks the clear evaluative criteria of a
    mandatory regulation.

CPSC’s Section 15 Defect Investigation Procedures Manual (section 15
manual) prescribes the process CPSC staff should follow when managing
product defect cases. According to this manual, this process has five key
stages:

1. opening a case after a product hazard is identified;
2. evaluating evidence to make a preliminary determination, which is the
   staff’s assessment that a product has a defect that creates a
   substantial product hazard;
3. negotiating with the firm to develop a corrective action plan;
4. monitoring the firm’s implementation of the corrective action plan; and
5. closing a case after CPSC determines that the firm has adequately
   implemented the corrective action plan.

11CPSC    is statutorily restricted from issuing mandatory safety rules except in instances in
which voluntary standards would not “eliminate or adequately reduce the risk of injury” and
where it is unlikely there “will be substantial compliance with such voluntary standards.”
(15 U.S.C. § 2056(b)).
12See    15 U.S.C. § 2056b; 15 U.S.C. § 2056 note.
13CPSC alternately refers to cases involving unregulated products as “section 15 cases,”
in reference to section 15(a) of the CPSA, which defines a substantial product hazard.




Page 7                                     GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
                                        Time frames associated with the first three stages influence the length of
                                        time that passes before firms initiate steps to mitigate product safety
                                        hazards (see fig. 2).

Figure 2: Overview of Decision Making-Process for Product Defect Cases




                                        This manual also defines hazard classifications, which group the severity
                                        of product hazards (see table 2). 14




                                        14The section 15 manual states that the hazard priority serves as the guide for
                                        determining the level and intensity of corrective action and public notice.




                                        Page 8                                    GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
Table 2: Hazard Classifications and Definitions for CPSC Product Defect Cases

Classification          Description
Class-A                 A risk of death or grievous injury or illness is likely or very likely, or serious injury or illness is very likely. Voluntary
                        corrective action plans involving class-A hazards require a Commission vote.
Class-B                 Risk of death or grievous injury or illness is not likely to occur but is possible; serious injury or illness is likely; or
                        moderate injury or illness is possible.
Class-C                 Risk of serious injury or illness is not likely but is possible; moderate risk of injury or illness is not necessarily likely,
                        but is possible.
Class-D                 Defect exists; risk of injury does not rise to the level of a substantial product hazard; company voluntarily has taken
                        action to address the risk.
Source: Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) | GAO-21-56




                                                           CPSC has a number of tools available to respond to substantial product
                                                           hazards. CPSC has authority to order companies to engage in various
                                                           corrective actions—including refunds, replacements, or repairs of
                                                           products. 15 However, CPSC generally may only exercise this authority
                                                           after conducting an administrative hearing, and any entity that is
                                                           adversely affected by such an order can challenge the action in federal
                                                           court. Because of this, in most circumstances CPSC negotiates corrective
                                                           actions with firms on a voluntary basis and will pursue mandatory
                                                           compliance only if CPSC and the firm fail to reach a voluntary agreement.
                                                           In addition, in cases in which CPSC finds that a firm’s product is in
                                                           violation of a statute or regulation, it can issue a notice of violation letter
                                                           and request corrective actions, such as stopping sale of the product or
                                                           correcting future production.

                                                           CPSC may also pursue enforcement actions—such as civil or criminal
                                                           penalties—for violations such as the sale of a consumer product subject
                                                           to voluntary corrective taken by the manufacturer. According to CPSC
                                                           officials, mandatory compliance actions require additional time and
                                                           resources to pursue and may lead to lengthy delays in removing
                                                           hazardous products from the market. As a result, according to officials,
                                                           CPSC pursues these actions only as a last resort.




                                                           1515   U.S.C. § 2064(d).




                                                           Page 9                                  GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
CPSC Has Taken
Steps Intended to
Improve Efficiency but
Issues Remain with
Timeliness Goals and
Prioritization for
Product Defect Cases
CPSC Has Taken Steps     CPSC has planned or taken several process-related steps intended to
Intended to Improve      address consumer product safety hazards in a more efficient and timely
                         manner.
Efficiency
                         •   Restructuring the Office of Compliance and Field Operations. In
                             January 2020, CPSC’s Office of Compliance and Field Operations
                             created the Enforcement and Litigation Division to bring compliance
                             and legal staff working on preliminary determinations and corrective
                             action plans into one division. 16 CPSC officials noted that an intended
                             benefit of this restructuring was to ensure that CPSC teams working
                             on product defect cases have increased access to staff resources,
                             such as staff attorneys who previously were in a separate division.
                         •   Developing a web portal for Fast-Track program. CPSC plans to
                             develop an electronic submission portal to facilitate firms’ submission
                             of information to the Fast-Track program. CPSC introduced the Fast-
                             Track recall program in 1995 to quickly remove potentially hazardous
                             products from the U.S. market—eliminating the need for CPSC staff to
                             make a preliminary determination. CPSC officials noted that the new
                             portal is intended to help ensure that firms more consistently and
                             completely submit the data needed to participate, helping reduce
                             processing delays. The officials told us they began collecting input
                             from external stakeholders on the portal in fiscal year 2020 and a
                             contractor will begin building the portal in fiscal year 2021.
                         •   Updating the product defect case management system. As of
                             2016, CPSC uses a new product defect case-management system
                             that allows staff to enter and track case-management information

                         16The Enforcement and Litigation Division is also responsible for administrative litigation
                         and imposition of enforcement actions such as civil penalties.




                         Page 10                                    GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
                              electronically, which could improve the agency’s ability to manage key
                              process stages for product defect cases. 17 CPSC officials told us that
                              previously these processes relied on paper documentation.

                          In addition, CPSC recently increased its use of unilateral press releases
                          to notify the public more quickly of a potential hazard posed by a product
                          or product category. When CPSC makes a preliminary determination of a
                          substantial product hazard but a firm is unwilling or unable to conduct a
                          voluntary corrective action, CPSC may consider issuing a unilateral press
                          release to warn the public of the hazard. 18 CPSC officials told us that if
                          they are confident that staff can reach a voluntary agreement with the
                          firm, they generally do not pursue a unilateral press release.

                          CPSC has issued four unilateral press releases since October 2019, but
                          before that had issued only two since 2010. 19 CPSC Commissioners as of
                          September 2020 had mixed views on the use of unilateral press releases.
                          Three have supported their use, while one other expressed concern they
                          could be used inappropriately to embarrass a firm or create leverage in
                          corrective action plan negotiations.

CPSC’s Timeliness         CPSC has established time frames and related performance goals staff
Measures Do Not Account   should meet for key stages of its process for product defect cases, but
                          time frames can vary significantly across product defect cases, with
for Variability among
                          complex cases taking more time. For example, CPSC’s section 15
Cases                     manual recommends that staff should make a preliminary determination
                          within 3 months of opening a case for products that pose a high risk of
                          harm to consumers. In addition, CPSC sets annual performance goals
                          related to the timely management of cases, including a goal related to
                          making a preliminary determination within 85 days of opening an
                          investigation (see table 3). However, CPSC officials told us that complex
                          cases can take more time because they often require new or in-depth
                          technical analysis by CPSC staff or external contractors that can cause
                          delays. For example, our analysis of product defect case data from 2016

                          17CPSC officials stated that they started implementing the new system in 2013 but did not
                          fully implement it until 2016.
                          18Unilateral press releases must adhere to the requirements of section 6(b) of the CPSA
                          and the regulations established in 16 C.F.R. part 1101, which require that CPSC provide
                          firms with at least 15 days to comment on the accuracy of the information in a unilateral
                          press release.
                          19The four unilateral press releases in 2020 were related to infant sleepers, hover boards,
                          cedar chests, and a cooking tool.




                          Page 11                                   GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
                                                            through 2019 found 60 percent (78 of 131) took longer than 3 months to
                                                            make a preliminary determination, with a few taking more than a year (6
                                                            of 131).

Table 3: Key CPSC Timeliness Goals for Product Defect Cases, Fiscal Year 2019

Product defect case process Annual timeliness goals
stage
Opening a case                              Percentage of cases for which a request for all required information to evaluate a potentially
                                            hazardous consumer product is sent within 5 business days of case opening
Evidence evaluation                         Percentage of cases for which a preliminary determination is made within 20 business days of
                                            completed product safety assessments
Evidence evaluation                         Percentage of cases for which a preliminary determination is made within 85 business days of the
                                            case opening
Corrective action plan                      Percentage of cases for which a corrective action is accepted within 90 business days of preliminary
negotiation                                 determination
Source: Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). | GAO-21-56




                                                            Additionally, section 6(b) of the CPSA requires CPSC to provide a firm
                                                            advance notice and opportunity to comment on the accuracy of any
                                                            information related to a potential product hazard before that information is
                                                            disclosed to the public. CPSC officials and external stakeholders told us
                                                            that satisfying this requirement may delay agreement on language for
                                                            notifying the public of a product recall.

                                                            CPSC has faced challenges consistently meeting two of its timeliness
                                                            goals related to evidence evaluation and reaching a preliminary
                                                            determination. As shown in figure 3, in fiscal years 2018 and 2019, CPSC
                                                            missed its goal to reach a preliminary determination within 20 business
                                                            days of completing a product safety assessment. In addition, in fiscal year
                                                            2019, CPSC fell significantly short of reaching its goal to make a
                                                            preliminary determination within 85 business days—this occurred in only
                                                            12.5 percent of product defect cases compared to a goal of 65 percent.
                                                            While CPSC officials noted that the government shutdown from
                                                            December 2018 to January 2019 affected their ability to meet timeliness
                                                            goals in 2019, time frames can vary significantly across product defect
                                                            cases and these goals are not useful for cases with certain
                                                            characteristics, such as those that required complex technical analysis or
                                                            interviews with affected consumers.




                                                            Page 12                               GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
Figure 3: Timeliness Performance Goals and Results for Product Defect Cases (Fiscal Years 2016–2019)




                                        Note: CPSC calculated its performance metrics based on product cases assigned one of the three
                                        highest hazard classifications (A, B, or C) based on CPSC’s determination of the risk posed to
                                        consumers.
                                        a
                                         For fiscal year 2017, CPSC’s performance goal for accepting corrective actions after making a
                                        preliminary determination had a target of 60 business days instead of 90 business days.
                                        b
                                         For fiscal year 2017, CPSC’s performance goal for making a preliminary determination after
                                        completing a product safety assessment had a target of 10 business days instead of 20 business
                                        days.




                                        Page 13                                       GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
                               In prior work, we reported that a set of successful performance goals and
                               measures is balanced to address varied aspects of program
                               performance. 20 However, by using the same timeliness measures for
                               cases, CPSC does not account for the significant variability in the time it
                               takes staff to conduct key stages of a product defect investigation. CPSC
                               officials acknowledged that these timeliness goals may not be useful, but
                               have not taken steps to update or revise these goals. As a result, CPSC’s
                               product defect investigation time frames may not be an effective tool for
                               managing more complex cases and its performance goals may not be an
                               effective measure of timeliness overall.

CPSC Does Not Follow           The section 15 manual describes steps CPSC staff should take to
Steps Described in Policy      prioritize resources for newly opened product defect cases. According to
                               the manual, when CPSC opens a new product defect case, staff are to
to Prioritize Product Defect
                               assign a tentative hazard classification to help prioritize cases. These
Cases Based on Potential       classifications are based on criteria for potential risk to consumer safety in
Risk to Consumer Safety        the section 15 manual—for example, a tentative class-“a” rating would be
                               assigned where evidence indicates the product may pose a class-A
                               safety hazard (likely risk of death or serious injury). 21 According to the
                               section 15 manual, an economic or health sciences product safety
                               assessment should be completed within 2 weeks for a case with a
                               tentative class-a rating and within 3 weeks for cases with all other
                               classifications.

                               However, CPSC does not follow these risk-based steps for prioritizing
                               cases. Specifically, compliance officials told us that staff do not rely on
                               the tentative hazard classifications for prioritizing resources, such as
                               assigning additional technical or legal staff to product defect cases that
                               pose the highest risk of harm to consumers. 22

                               CPSC officials told us that rather than using tentative hazard
                               classifications to prioritize resources upon opening a case, they instead
                               rely on management and staff experience in addressing product safety

                               20GAO,  Agency Performance Plans: Examples of Practices That Can Improve Usefulness
                               to Decision Makers, GAO/GGD/AIMD-99-69 (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 29, 1999).
                               21CPSC    uses a lowercase letter to indicate a tentative hazard classification, and changes
                               it to an uppercase letter once staff finalize a preliminary determination.
                               22CPSC’s      product defect case management system automatically labels cases as “high
                               priority” if the product causes internal organ injuries, suffocation risk, has any death
                               reported, has over 100 incidents reported, or was assigned a tentative Class-a hazard
                               classification. However, CPSC officials told us that this automatic designation is primarily
                               used for tracking serious cases, not resource prioritization.




                               Page 14                                    GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
                            hazards to make decisions on a case-by-case basis. Specifically, CPSC
                            officials told us that Office of Compliance and Field Operations
                            management review staff workload reports and case timeliness reports to
                            assess whether CPSC should assign additional resources to a case or
                            reassign a case to other staff. However, the section 15 manual does not
                            describe this approach for prioritizing cases based on potential risk to
                            consumer safety associated with a product, or other factors, such as units
                            sold. Establishing and following procedures for prioritizing new cases
                            based on relevant case-specific factors, such as the potential safety risk,
                            could help ensure CPSC staff consistently allocate staff resources to
                            cases based on these factors.


CPSC Relies on
Voluntary Corrective
Actions More
Frequently Than
Mandatory Corrective
or Enforcement
Actions
CPSC Has Relied             CPSC principally has relied on voluntary corrective actions for product
Principally on Voluntary    defect cases or to address violations of statutes or implementing
                            regulations.
Agreements with Firms for
Recalls and Pursued Few
Mandatory Recalls
Product Defect Cases        For product defect cases between 2016 and 2019, CPSC had 1,000
                            active product defect investigations, 131 of which resulted in voluntary
                            corrective actions. 23 By comparison, CPSC brought six administrative
                            cases for mandatory recalls since 2010. CPSC has authority to issue
                            mandatory recalls but only after the involved firm is given the opportunity
                            for an administrative hearing, and the firm can subsequently challenge
                            the recall in federal court. Furthermore, CPSC generally only exercises its
                            authority to impose mandatory recalls if the Commission determines that


                            23CPSC officials stated that product defect case data were not reliable before full
                            implementation of the product defect case management system in 2016.




                            Page 15                                   GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
                               voluntary actions are insufficient, product hazards are particularly acute,
                               or safety standard violations are egregious.

                               CPSC officials said that negotiating a voluntary corrective action plan is
                               typically more efficient than a mandatory action for achieving the goal of
                               quickly removing hazardous products from the U.S. market. CPSC
                               Commissioners and officials told us that pursuing mandatory recalls is
                               resource-intensive and time consuming. We found that most cases in
                               which CPSC pursued a mandatory recall took more than 1 year to finish,
                               with one taking almost 7 years. Furthermore, hazardous products stay on
                               the market while CPSC pursues the recall unless the agency takes a
                               separate legal action, such as seeking a court injunction to stop the sale
                               of the product.

Products in Violation of the   Similar to product defect cases, in recent years CPSC relied on voluntary
Law                            actions by firms to address products that violate the CPSA or other acts
                               CPSC enforces. From 2016 through 2019, CPSC issued 9,443 notice of
                               violation letters describing the violation and CPSC’s proposed corrective
                               action to firms with a product found to be in violation of applicable statutes
                               and regulations (see fig. 4).

                               Figure 4: Notices of Violation Sent by CPSC, 2016–2019




                               Page 16                              GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
Corrective actions proposed by CPSC in notices of violation include (1)
stop sale and correct future production, (2) correct future production, (3)
recall the product at the consumer level, and (4) recall the product at the
distribution level. Consumer-level recalls made up 2.6 percent and
distribution-level recalls made up 1.7 percent of all such corrective actions
from 2016 through 2019 (see fig. 5). Firms agreed to implement CPSC’s
proposed corrective action in 81 percent of regulated product cases in
that period.

Figure 5: CPSC Proposed Corrective Actions for Regulated Product Violations,
2016–2019
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) can propose four types of corrective
actions to firms whose products have safety hazards in violation of law or regulation.




From 2016 through 2019, CPSC identified 82 percent of its regulated
product violations through its import surveillance program, which works
closely with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to identify and examine
imported shipments of consumer products. China was the place of origin
for 72 percent of these products. Five violation types accounted for
approximately 66 percent of all notices of violation CPSC sent to firms in
that time period: violations related to tracking label requirements (26
percent), lead in children’s products (20 percent), third-party certificate



Page 17                                 GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
                         requirements (11 percent), art material labeling requirements (5 percent),
                         and products containing small parts (4 percent).

CPSC Has Taken Few       CPSC has pursued few enforcement actions in recent years. As stated
Enforcement Actions,     previously, CPSC has authority to take enforcement actions, such as
                         imposing civil penalties and seeking injunctions and seizures. CPSC
Such as Imposing Civil
                         Commissioners and officials told us that priorities established by agency
Penalties                leadership drive CPSC’s propensity to pursue enforcement actions. For
                         example, most CPSC Commissioners (three of four) and officials said
                         staff would pursue more civil penalties if the Chair signaled that doing so
                         was a priority. Commissioners and officials cited resource constraints as
                         another factor in deciding whether to pursue enforcement actions, which
                         are resource-intensive and time-consuming.

Civil Penalties          Civil penalties are monetary fines that CPSC can impose for violation of
                         prohibited actions defined by statutes such as the CPSA or the Federal
                         Hazardous Substances Act. 24 CPSC imposed 59 civil penalties from 2010
                         through 2019 (see fig. 6). CPSC officials told us that civil penalty
                         settlement agreements negotiated by CPSC staff contain provisions
                         requiring firms to implement and maintain an internal compliance program
                         and a system of internal controls, in addition to paying a civil penalty. 25
                         Since 2016, CPSC has accepted nine such agreements.




                         24Prohibited actions include selling a consumer product that violates CPSC regulations or
                         rules or is subject to voluntary corrective action taken by the manufacturer. 15 U.S.C. §
                         2068.
                         25In  the event that CPSC and a subject company cannot agree on civil penalty settlement
                         terms, CPSC may refer the matter to the Department of Justice to initiate civil penalty
                         litigation.




                         Page 18                                  GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
                           Figure 6: Consumer Product Safety Commission Civil Penalties, 2010–2019




Criminal Penalties         Criminal penalties include monetary fines, imprisonment of individuals,
                           and forfeiture of assets for violating statutes such as those mentioned
                           above. 26 Criminal matters are referred to the Department of Justice.
                           CPSC has had significant involvement in 12 criminal penalty cases
                           prosecuted from fiscal years 2007 to 2019, with the most recent case
                           occurring in 2011. 27

Injunctions and Seizures   Other enforcement actions CPSC can take against firms include
                           injunctions and seizures of products. From 2016 through 2019, CPSC
                           was granted nine court injunctions, which can order firms to take specific
                           actions. For example, an injunction can prohibit the manufacture or sale
                           of certain consumer products. Products in violation of an applicable
                           statute or regulation enforced by CPSC are subject to seizure and



                           26See, e.g., 15 U.S.C. 2070(a),(c) [CPSA],15 U.S.C. 1264(a) [FHSA], and 15 U.S.C. 1196
                           [FFA].
                           27CPSC officials stated that there are pending criminal penalty matters that cannot be
                           made public as of July 2020.




                           Page 19                                  GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
                           condemnation proceedings. However, CPSC did not seek any seizures
                           through federal courts from 2016 through 2019.

CPSC Promulgates           CPSC is statutorily restricted from issuing mandatory consumer safety
Mandatory Standards        rules in instances in which compliance with voluntary standards would
                           eliminate or adequately reduce the risk of injury and it is likely there will
Less Frequently Than It
                           be substantial compliance with such voluntary standards. CPSC officials
Participates in the        and other stakeholders in the development of voluntary product standards
Development of Voluntary   told us that the process for developing mandatory standards can be
Standards                  lengthy, often lasting several years. 28 Amendments to the CPSA passed
                           in 1981 added new steps that CPSC must follow to issue mandatory
                           consumer safety rules. 29 For example, before implementing a mandatory
                           consumer safety rule, CPSC must conduct a cost-benefit analysis, assess
                           alternatives to the final rule, and justify why these alternatives were not
                           adopted. 30 In addition, CPSC must substantiate a number of findings,
                           including that the rule is reasonably necessary to eliminate or reduce an
                           unreasonable risk of injury associated with the product, and that the rule
                           is the “least burdensome” that will adequately reduce the risk. 31

                           Between 2016 and 2020, CPSC finalized 35 mandatory product safety
                           standards, more than half of which were revisions to existing standards.
                           Of the 35 standards, none was promulgated using the rulemaking
                           process required by the 1981 amendments to the CPSA.

                           Because of statutory restrictions and difficulties promulgating mandatory
                           standards, CPSC actively participates in the development of voluntary
                           product safety standards. CPSC staff told us that because the agency
                           has limited resources, CPSC tries to participate in the development of
                           voluntary standards that align with agency priorities or for products that
                           may pose the greatest risk. Since 2016, CPSC has participated in the
                           development of between 71 and 78 voluntary standards per year,
                           including for high chairs, candles, and fuel containers.




                           28According to CPSC, over 250 products are currently regulated and subject to mandatory
                           standards.
                           29Pub. L. No. 97-35, § 1203, 95 Stat. 703, 704-13 (1981) (codified as amended at 15
                           U.S.C. § 2058).
                           3015   U.S.C. § 2058(f)(2)(A),(B).
                           3115   U.S.C. § 2058(f)(3).




                           Page 20                                 GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
                         CPSC staff involved in the development of voluntary standards told us
                         that teams throughout the agency make recommendations for potential
                         product categories to participate in voluntary standards activities. Those
                         recommendations are vetted by CPSC management. CPSC staff told us
                         that criteria the agency considers when making decisions on involvement
                         in voluntary standard development include the likelihood the voluntary
                         standard will adequately reduce the risk of injury, result in substantial
                         compliance, and be developed in a timely manner. See appendix III for
                         more details on CPSC’s participation in voluntary standards development.

                         CPSC’s two primary mechanisms for overseeing firms’ compliance with
CPSC’s Oversight of      corrective action plans are recall effectiveness checks and monthly
Firms’ Compliance        progress reports. Recall effectiveness checks are conducted by CPSC
                         staff or delegates to determine if the corrective action plan is being
with Corrective Action   carried out, while monthly progress reports are completed by firms and
Plans Could Be           submitted to CPSC for review. 32
Improved
CPSC Does Not Allocate   In the event of a recall of a hazardous product, CPSC field staff conduct
Resources to Recall      recall effectiveness checks to determine if the recall is being carried out
                         according to the agreed upon corrective action plan at all levels of the
Effectiveness Checks     distribution chain (see fig. 7). 33 At the direction of CPSC compliance
Based on Key Risk        officers, field staff check to ensure that the recalling firm has carried out
Factors                  its responsibilities under the corrective action plan. For example, staff
                         may check that distributors (wholesalers, retailers) have removed recalled
                         products from shelves and placed any appropriate signage in stores for
                         consumers to see.




                         32CPSC   officials stated that about 1 month after reaching a corrective action plan
                         agreement field investigators also conduct corrective action plan inspections at firms to
                         confirm that firms are properly executing recalls. During a corrective action plan
                         inspection, a field investigator visits a firm to check that the firm’s recall documentation
                         and practices align with the corrective action plan agreement.
                         33CPSC   officials told us that under the Office of Compliance’s new structure case
                         management duties performed by compliance officers may also be performed by
                         attorneys within that office.




                         Page 21                                     GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
Figure 7: Recall Effectiveness Check Process




Note: In this context, distributors refer to wholesalers and retailers that distribute products.




CPSC’s section 15 manual states that compliance officers should
consider factors such as hazard classification when determining how
many checks to assign, because higher risk cases require more rigorous




Page 22                                           GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
                                                           monitoring. 34 Additionally, CPSC officials stated that compliance officers
                                                           should take into account risk factors such as hazard classification,
                                                           deaths, injuries, and number of products being recalled when determining
                                                           the number of recall effectiveness checks to conduct.

                                                           However, our analysis of CPSC’s data shows that compliance officers did
                                                           not consistently assign more checks to higher-risk recalls between
                                                           February 2016 and May 2020. Instead, compliance officers assigned
                                                           varying numbers of checks to cases with similar risk profiles, or assigned
                                                           similar numbers of checks to cases with very different risk profiles (see
                                                           table 4). For example, in two cases with the same hazard classification,
                                                           similar numbers of products being recalled, and similar numbers of
                                                           injuries, compliance officers assigned 70 checks to one case and 11 to
                                                           the other. In a separate instance, compliance officers assigned 20 checks
                                                           to a case with a C hazard classification, fewer than 2,000 products being
                                                           recalled, and two injuries reported, while assigning 15 checks to a case
                                                           with a B hazard classification (indicating higher risk than a C hazard),
                                                           more than 200,000 products being recalled, and 115 injuries reported.

Table 4: Examples of Product Recall Cases that Illustrate Variation in Number of Recall Effectiveness Checks by Recall
Characteristics

Example                             Hazard                            Number of products             Injuries reported                Total number of recall
                                    classification                               recalled                                              effectiveness checks
                                                                                                                                                  conducted
Example Case 1a                     C                                              1,942,466                           27                                     70
Example Case 1b                     C                                              1,487,129                           30                                     11
Example Case 2a                     C                                                   1,807                           2                                     20
Example Case 2b                     B                                                217,633                         115                                      15
Example Case 3a                     B                                                  86,800                           0                                          5
Example Case 3b                     B                                                  86,752                          11                                          0
Example Case 4a                     C                                                317,282                           27                                          0
Example Case 4b                     C                                                  25,602                           0                                     25
Source: Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) | GAO-21-56

                                                           Note: We selected the cases in the table as illustrative examples of variance in the number of recall
                                                           effectiveness checks assigned in CPSC Section 15 Recall Cases opened between June 2013 and
                                                           November 2019 with hazard classifications A, B, and C. Examples were selected for similarities in
                                                           risk factors but high variance in the number of checks conducted, or for similarities in numbers of
                                                           checks assigned but high variance in risk factors.



                                                           34We define one recall effectiveness check as a single visit to a distributor, call or email to
                                                           a consumer, or online check. If the compliance officer assigned 10 consumer-level
                                                           checks, the field officer would contact 10 separate consumers.




                                                           Page 23                                        GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
While the section 15 manual does not contain written instructions on how
many checks compliance officers should assign, CPSC officials told us
that it is standard for compliance officers to assign 10 checks per recall
and increase or decrease this number based on the recall’s risk profile
and other factors. Our analysis of CPSC’s data shows that on average
8.57 checks were conducted per recall, for product defect recalls closed
between January 2016 and May 2020 with hazard classifications of A, B,
and C.

Federal internal control standards state that management should design
control activities to achieve objectives and respond to risks. 35 This
includes designing procedures to achieve the agency’s objectives.
Although the section 15 manual provides general instructions that
compliance officers should consider risk factors when assigning recall
effectiveness checks, these instructions do not specify how to consider
risk factors. Instead, determining the number of checks is left to the
judgment of individual compliance officers.

In our review of a sample of recall cases, we did not identify any
documentation by compliance officers that provided their justification for
the numbers of checks they assigned. As a result, we could not determine
if compliance officers consistently used the same approach across
recalls. 36

CPSC told us it has not considered revising the manual to include more
specific instructions for how many recall effectiveness checks should be
conducted based on the characteristics of recalls. CPSC officials noted
that they have not considered issuing more guidance on how checks
should be assigned, and any additional instructions on assigning
effectiveness checks would need to allow for flexibility, given the wide
variety of products being recalled. As seen above, the lack of specific
instructions in the section 15 manual or elsewhere on assigning recall
effectiveness checks likely has contributed to inconsistencies, and the
rationales for these inconsistencies are unknown. By providing more
formal written guidelines or procedures for how compliance officers
should determine how many recall effectiveness checks to assign, CPSC


35SeeGAO, Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government, GAO-14-704G
(Washington, D.C.: Sept. 10, 2014).
36We reviewed a random sample of 25 cases from a population of 78 Section 15 recall
cases closed between February 2016 and May 2020 with hazard classifications of A, B
and C, and in the top 80 percent of cases by recall volume.




Page 24                                GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
                            could position compliance officers to prioritize resources effectively to
                            more closely monitor recall cases that are higher risk.

CPSC Does Not               Monthly progress reports are standardized, one-page forms that recalling
Systematically Track        firms submit to CPSC on a monthly basis, typically per a clause in their
                            corrective action plan. These forms provide CPSC with information on the
Firms’ Submission of
                            recall’s performance in various areas, such as the number of products
Monthly Progress Reports,   corrected, notifications made to consumers, advertisement of the recall,
and Firms Do Not Submit     and social media and web engagement with recall content.
Them Consistently
                            The section 15 manual states that monthly progress report forms are to
                            be submitted by the recalling firms. These forms provide CPSC staff with
                            specific information on how many units of the defective product have
                            been repaired, replaced, or refunded by the firm each month, as well as
                            how many consumers contacted the firm about the recall announcement.
                            In cases in which monthly progress reports indicate a slowdown in the
                            recall’s progress, the section 15 manual directs compliance officers to
                            consider whether such a slowdown indicates a problem with the recall.
                            CPSC also uses the information from these forms to determine when a
                            corrective action plan should remain open or be closed.

                            However, CPSC does not track global submission of progress reports
                            across all recalls, so it does not always know that not all firms are
                            submitting them monthly. When a firm is late to submit a progress report,
                            a CPSC system alerts the responsible compliance officer so they can
                            contact the firm and attempt to correct the issue. However, CPSC does
                            not have a systematic approach for globally tracking submission of
                            monthly progress reports. According to our analysis of CPSC’s data (for
                            product defect case recalls closed between February 2016 and May 2020
                            with hazard classifications of B and C), over half of firms did not submit all
                            monthly progress reports to CPSC. Our analysis of data in these cases
                            shows that about 61 percent of firms achieved a monthly progress report
                            submission rate greater than 75 percent, while 25 percent of firms
                            submitted their monthly progress report for less than half of the months in
                            which a report was required. 37

                            In a random sample of 25 product defect case recalls from January 2016
                            to May 2020, we found that all of the cases had monthly progress reports

                            37We define this submission rate as the number of monthly progress reports a firm
                            submitted for a given recall over the number of months in which a firm would have been
                            expected to submit a monthly progress report for that recall.




                            Page 25                                 GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
required in their corrective action plan, but 12 of the 25 had a report
submission rate of 75 percent or lower. 38 CPSC officials stated that in
cases in which a firm missed a number of months in a row, the next report
submitted typically included up-to-date numbers that included information
from the missed months. In one case, a report covered from June 26,
2018, through April 30, 2019, a period during which CPSC had received
no updates on the status of the recall. These delays in reporting could
result in CPSC not being informed in a timely manner about potential
problems with recall implementation, such as delays in removing
potentially hazardous products from the market.

CPSC has goals for ensuring the submission of monthly progress reports.
CPSC’s 2018–2022 Strategic Plan includes a performance goal of
improving the effectiveness of corrective actions, which notes the
importance of working with firms to ensure the accuracy and timeliness of
their progress reports.

Monthly progress reports are an important source of quality information
for CPSC to monitor recall effectiveness, but CPSC lacks a mechanism to
systematically track report submission rates across all recalls. CPSC
recently created the position of Recall Monitor in the Office of
Compliance. This position is responsible for periodically checking with
compliance officers to discuss firms’ monthly progress, among other
duties. However, the creation of this position does not address CPSC’s
inability to systematically track progress report submission rates. While
compliance officers may track the submission rates of monthly progress
reports for individual recalls, CPSC’s lack of a measure of overall
submission rates means it does not have visibility into the extent to which
firms have not been complying with the monthly progress report
requirement.

If CPSC does not regularly receive reports from firms, compliance officers
may miss signs that a recall is ineffective, or that it has been effective and
is ready to be closed. Systematically tracking progress report submission
rates would allow the Office of Compliance to better identify and address
firms’ noncompliance with the requirement to submit monthly progress
reports for recalls. In turn, better compliance with this monthly reporting



38We   reviewed a random sample of 25 cases from a population of 78 product defect case
recalls closed between February 2016 and May 2020 with hazard classifications of B and
C, and in the top 80 percent of cases by recall volume.




Page 26                                 GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
                           requirement would improve CPSC’s ability to monitor the status of
                           product recalls.


CPSC Has Identified
Best Practices for
Recalls but Its Efforts
to Assess the
Effectiveness of
Corrective Actions
Have Limitations
CPSC Primarily Relies on   CPSC uses one performance measure to assess the effectiveness of
One Measure of Recall      recalls—the correction rate. Corrected products are those for which
                           consumers have utilized a firm-provided recall remedy (for example, a
Effectiveness That Has
                           repair kit, replacement, or refund). Since fiscal year 2017, CPSC has
Limited Usefulness for     used the correction rate—the total number of recalled products corrected
Recalls with Certain       divided by total number of products recalled—as the key performance
Characteristics            indicator for recall effectiveness in its strategic plan. According to CPSC,
                           this performance measure is intended to improve understanding of the
                           overall effectiveness of product recalls at all levels (manufacturer,
                           distributor, retailer, and consumer).

                           However, using the correction rate as the only measure of recall
                           effectiveness may not allow CPSC to accurately gauge the effectiveness
                           of all its recalls. Various recall characteristics can contribute to lower
                           consumer participation in a particular corrective action. For example,
                           when a firm recalls, and offers to replace, a product that has a very low
                           dollar value, like a fast food meal toy, consumers aware of the recall may
                           throw away the product rather than take the corrective action (return it for
                           replacement). In this case, the recall is effective in alerting the consumer
                           and removing the hazard, but this would not be reflected in CPSC’s
                           correction rate because the consumer did not use the firm-provided
                           remedy. Thus, the correction rate may not fully reflect a recall’s success
                           at mitigating product hazards.

                           CPSC has not recently updated the recall performance data it collects or
                           the way it collects recall effectiveness data. CPSC last updated its
                           monthly progress report form in 2015, and the form does not include
                           some fields that could be useful indicators of recall effectiveness. In July


                           Page 27                            GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
2020, CPSC officials said that CPSC does not have plans to update its
progress report forms to include additional data fields.

In prior work, we reported that a set of successful performance goals and
measures is balanced to address varied program priorities. 39 For
example, an agency might have one primary goal and measure of
performance in a particular area that is then balanced by other goals and
measures that help depict the complex performance they are intended to
assess.

In addition, CPSC’s most recent strategic plan stated intent to consider
additional evaluation tools and metrics to assess recall effectiveness.
However, the agency made no additions to its key performance indicators
in this area in its 2018, 2019, and 2020 operating plans.

If CPSC were to develop alternative measures of recall effectiveness, it
might see different results in analyses of relative effectiveness of
corrective actions with varying characteristics, which could enable it to
improve recall effectiveness. For example, other measures of recall
effectiveness that CPSC could explore include measures of consumer
engagement (e.g., counts of the number of consumers who engaged with
a social media post or video) or measures of direct notice contacts to
consumers. Measures of consumer engagement could provide
information about the effectiveness of different kinds of strategies in
achieving consistently higher levels of consumer engagement.

While correction rate— how many products were corrected using the firm-
provided remedy— measures an important dimension of recall
effectiveness, it does not capture other ways that a recall might be
effective in reaching consumers. Using additional measures of recall
effectiveness could provide for a more comprehensive assessment of the
effectiveness of recalls and help identify strategies for improving them. By
exploring the use of measures of recall effectiveness beyond the
correction rate, CPSC could better assess and, in turn, improve the
effectiveness of product defect recalls.




39GAO, Tax Administration: IRS Needs to Further Refine Its Tax Filing Season
Performance Measures, GAO-03-143, (Washington, D.C.: Nov. 22, 2002); and
GAO/GGD/AIMD-99-69.




Page 28                                 GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
CPSC Has Identified Best    CPSC has collected best practices from other government agencies that
Practices for Recalls and   conduct recalls and from nongovernment stakeholders and made efforts
                            to incorporate best practices into consumer product recalls. For example,
Has Been Taking Steps to
                            in 2018, CPSC organized and hosted a meeting to discuss recall best
Encourage Firms to Adopt    practices with other agencies that conduct recalls. 40 At this meeting
Them                        CPSC collected best practices for recalls that the other agencies use,
                            including strategies for improving consumer response to recalls using
                            direct notice, and discussed shared challenges, such as negotiating
                            voluntary recalls. CPSC has made efforts to incorporate some of these
                            practices by ensuring firms use social media and other methods of
                            communication as much as possible to reach consumers.

                            In 2017, CPSC organized and hosted a workshop on recall effectiveness
                            with external, nongovernment stakeholders to collect recall best practices,
                            and CPSC has worked to implement practices it identified. At this
                            meeting, CPSC identified five key ideas and suggestions from
                            stakeholders, selecting two as priorities: improving direct notice to
                            consumers and expanding the use of marketing strategies and
                            technology. 41 CPSC officials stated that they have worked toward these
                            priority goals by creating a working group to explore how data on
                            consumer purchases might be used more frequently to enhance direct
                            notice. CPSC officials stated they have also tried to formulate corrective
                            action plans to maximize actions taken to publicize recalls on social
                            media and other electronic sources. Additionally, CPSC has posted the
                            meeting’s documentation to its Recall Guidance webpage, giving firms
                            conducting recalls access to information about the effective practices
                            identified.

                            In July 2020, CPSC officials said they plan to incorporate a best practices
                            section into the update of the Recall Handbook, a document that CPSC
                            makes available on its website to help guide firms through the recall
                            process.

                            CPSC is a small agency with broad jurisdiction over product safety. In
Conclusions                 carrying out its mission of protecting consumers from unreasonable risks
                            posed by hazardous products, it is critical for CPSC to prioritize and focus

                            40The meeting included attendees from CPSC, National Highway Traffic Safety
                            Administration, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Agriculture, and the Food and
                            Drug Administration.
                            41Direct notice to consumers refers to a firm reaching out to consumers who purchased a
                            recalled product directly, by mail, email, or phone, rather than more indirectly through
                            public notification such as advertisements and signage in retail locations.




                            Page 29                                  GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
its limited resources so that it can act quickly and effectively to address
the most serious product hazards. While CPSC has taken steps to
improve its processes for responding to product safety hazards, we
identified additional opportunities for CPSC to better manage the
timeliness of product defect cases and its oversight of product recalls:

•   CPSC’s time frames can vary significantly across product defect
    cases, with complex cases requiring more time. By using the same
    time frames for all cases, CPSC does not account for the significant
    variability in how long it takes staff to conduct key stages of a product
    defect investigation. As a result, CPSC’s time frames for certain
    stages of product defect cases may not be effective tools for
    managing more complex cases and its related performance goals
    may not be effective measures of timeliness overall.
•   CPSC does not follow the process described in the section 15 manual
    for prioritizing newly opened product defect cases based on the
    potential risk to consumer safety associated with a product.
    Establishing and following specific procedures that instruct staff on
    prioritizing new cases based on case-specific factors, such as the
    potential risk to consumer safety, could help CPSC more consistently
    allocate staff resources to cases based on these factors.
•   CPSC does not have specific instructions for how compliance officers
    should determine how many recall effectiveness checks should be
    assigned in the event of a recall. By issuing more formal written
    guidelines or procedures on how compliance officers should
    determine how many recall effectiveness checks to assign, CPSC
    could provide compliance officers with tools to more effectively
    prioritize resources and to more closely monitor cases that are higher
    risk.
•   In recent years, nearly 40 percent of firms have not consistently
    submitted monthly progress reports to CPSC as stipulated in their
    corrective action plans, and CPSC does not track the extent to which
    firms are submitting their reports systematically across all cases. By
    not systematically tracking progress report submission rates, CPSC
    may miss opportunities to better identify and address firms’
    noncompliance with the submission requirements and to improve
    CPSC’s ability to monitor the status of product recalls.
•   CPSC measures recall effectiveness by a single metric that may not
    accurately measure the effectiveness of recalls for certain types of
    products. Developing and implementing additional measures of recall
    effectiveness could provide for a more comprehensive assessment of
    the effectiveness of recalls and help CPSC identify strategies for


Page 30                             GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
                          improving future recalls.

                      We are making the following five recommendations to CPSC:
Recommendations for
Executive Action      •   CPSC’s Assistant Executive Director of the Office of Compliance and
                          Field Operations should establish a policy or procedure that sets forth
                          specific steps CPSC staff should take to manage timeliness for
                          product defect cases with varying characteristics. As CPSC develops
                          this policy or procedure, CPSC should consider whether updates or
                          revisions are needed to existing timeliness goals to make them more
                          useful for the purpose of managing the timeliness of cases with
                          varying characteristics. (Recommendation 1)
                      •   CPSC’s Assistant Executive Director of the Office of Compliance and
                          Field Operations should develop and follow a documented policy or
                          procedure for prioritizing resources based on case-specific factors,
                          such as the potential risk to consumer safety associated with a
                          product. This policy or procedure should include specific steps staff
                          should take to prioritize resources to cases based on factors such as
                          likelihood and severity of harm or number of injuries related to the
                          product hazard. (Recommendation 2)
                      •   CPSC’s Assistant Executive Director of the Office of Compliance and
                          Field Operations should develop procedures for how compliance
                          officers should determine how many recall effectiveness checks to
                          assign to recalls based on risk factors, such as product volume and
                          injuries. (Recommendation 3)
                      •   CPSC’s Assistant Executive Director of the Office of Compliance and
                          Field Operations should systematically track the global submission of
                          recalling firms’ monthly progress reports to better identify and address
                          firms’ noncompliance with the submission requirements and to
                          improve CPSC’s ability to monitor the status of product recalls.
                          (Recommendation 4)
                      •   CPSC’s Assistant Executive Director of the Office of Compliance and
                          Field Operations should explore measures of recall effectiveness to
                          use in addition to correction rate, which could provide for a more
                          comprehensive assessment of the effectiveness of recalls.
                          (Recommendation 5)


                      We provided a draft of this report to CPSC for review and comment. We
Agency Comments       received written comments from CPSC that are reprinted in appendix IV.




                      Page 31                            GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
CPSC also provided technical comments that we incorporated, as
appropriate.

In its written comments, CPSC stated that it generally concurs with our
findings and supports the recommendations to improve CPSC’s
processes for prioritizing resources, overseeing firms’ compliance,
measuring recall effectiveness, and managing the timeliness of product
defect cases.

We are sending copies of this report to the appropriate congressional
committees, the Acting Chairman of CPSC, and other interested parties.
In addition, the report is available at no charge on the GAO website at
https://www.gao.gov.

If you or your staff have any questions about this report, please contact
me at (202) 512-8678 or cackleya@gao.gov. Contact points for our
Offices of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found on
the last page of this report. GAO staff who made key contributions to this
report are listed in appendix V.




Alicia Puente Cackley
Director, Financial Markets and Community Investment




Page 32                           GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
              Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
              Methodology


Methodology

              This report examines the extent to which the Consumer Product Safety
              Commission (CPSC) has (1) taken steps to prioritize and address product
              safety hazards in a timely and efficient manner; (2) used different types of
              corrective actions, enforcement actions, and standards; (3) overseen
              firms’ compliance with corrective action plans and taken steps to address
              noncompliance; and (4) assessed the effectiveness of different types of
              corrective actions and incorporated best practices.

              To address our first objective, we obtained and reviewed documentation
              on CPSC’s process for investigating potential product hazards and
              administering voluntary recalls for what are known as product defect
              cases. 1 For example, we reviewed CPSC’s Section 15 Defect
              Investigation Procedures Manual, which describes how staff should
              manage product defect investigations, Dynamic Case Management User
              Manual, and standard operating procedures for investigation and
              corrective action plan approval. To obtain additional information and
              perspectives on CPSC’s process and practices, we interviewed CPSC
              staff responsible for investigating potentially defective or violative
              consumer products, negotiating corrective actions with firms, and
              pursuing enforcement actions. We also interviewed CPSC’s Acting Chair
              and three Commissioners as of July 2020.

              We also reviewed CPSC’s performance goal reports and summaries for
              fiscal years 2016–2019 that showed how CPSC performed relative to its
              timeliness goals. We obtained and analyzed active product defect case
              data from 2016 through 2019 to determine how long staff typically took to
              complete key process stages and activities. Specifically, this analysis
              focused on product defect cases to which CPSC staff assigned one of the
              three highest hazard classification ratings (class A, B, or C). 2 From 2016
              through 2019, 131 of 1,000 product defect cases met these criteria. To
              determine the reliability of these data, we reviewed related
              documentation, tested the data for missing data and errors, and
              interviewed CPSC officials about steps taken to ensure data quality. We
              found the data reliable for the purposes of selecting product defect cases
              to review and assessing these cases to determine how long staff take to

              1CPSC     may also refer to these cases as “section 15” or “unregulated product” cases.
              2CPSC   officials stated that they started implementing a new product defect case
              management system in 2013 (the Dynamic Case Management System) and fully
              implemented it in 2016. According to CPSC staff, once fully implemented, the system
              improved the quality and reliability of CPSC’s voluntary recall data. Based on this
              information, we requested and reviewed active case data available from January 2016
              through December 2019.




              Page 33                                    GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology




complete key process phases and activities. We also interviewed external
stakeholders such as industry organizations, consumer advocacy groups,
and legal experts who had experience working on product safety issues
to obtain their perspectives on how CPSC addresses product safety
hazards.

To address our second objective, we obtained and reviewed data and
documentation for CPSC’s use of corrective and enforcement actions and
standards. As stated above, we requested and reviewed data on active
product defect cases from 2016 to 2019 to which CPSC staff assigned
one of the three highest-risk classification ratings (class A, B, or C).
These data were stored in CPSC’s Dynamic Case Management System.
Examples of variables we reviewed in this data set included risk
classifications, process milestone dates, and corrective action plan
information. We reviewed documentation showing how often CPSC
pursued administrative hearings for mandatory recalls since 2010. We
also obtained and analyzed data for products that violated specific
statutes or regulations, such as the Consumer Product Safety Act or
Federal Hazardous Substances Act, from 2016 through 2019. In addition,
we requested and reviewed documentation associated with CPSC’s use
of enforcement actions, such as civil and criminal penalties, injunctions,
and seizures of hazardous products. To describe how frequently CPSC
participated in the development of voluntary standards, we reviewed
CPSC operating plans for fiscal years 2016–2020, which report the
voluntary standards the agency participates in developing every year. To
describe how frequently CPSC promulgates mandatory standards, we
reviewed documentation on mandatory product rulemakings from January
2016 through June 2020 and the statutory authorities under which those
rulemakings were promulgated.

To identify factors that may have affected CPSC’s use of corrective or
enforcement actions and standards, we reviewed CPSC’s annual
operating plans, performance reports, and other relevant CPSC
documentation. We also interviewed CPSC Commissioners and CPSC
staff involved in the development of voluntary standards and spoke with
CPSC general counsel about CPSC’s rulemaking authorities and
reviewed relevant documentation on those authorities. In addition, we
interviewed external stakeholder groups, such as industry organizations,
consumer advocacy groups, and legal experts with experience working
on product safety issues to obtain their perspectives on CPSC’s use of
corrective and enforcement actions in recent years.




Page 34                              GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology




To address our third objective, we reviewed CPSC’s policies and
practices for monitoring firms’ compliance with corrective action plans,
including relevant sections of CPSC’s Section 15 Defect Investigation
Procedures Manual, which describes how staff should manage a recall
through all of its phases, and CPSC’s recall handbook, which guides firms
through the recall process. In addition, we reviewed documents relevant
to CPSC’s primary recall monitoring tools, monthly progress reports, and
recall effectiveness checks and interviewed CPSC officials about how
staff administer monitoring policies.

To determine whether CPSC monitors corrective action plans in
accordance with its policies and whether firms comply with monitoring
requirements, we analyzed CPSC’s recall monitoring data for cases
closed between January 2016 and May 2020. We assessed the reliability
of CPSC’s monitoring data by reviewing related documentation, testing
the data for omissions and errors, and interviewing CPSC officials about
steps taken to ensure data quality. We found the data reliable for
reviewing and assessing how staff monitor recall cases and how firms
comply with monitoring aspects of corrective action plans. Additionally, to
describe whether recall effectiveness checks were conducted
appropriately, and whether all monthly progress reports were submitted,
we reviewed recall effectiveness checks and monthly progress reports of
a non-generalizable sample of 25 recall cases. We selected this sample
from a data set of 99 section 15 recall cases closed between January
2016 and May 2020 with risk classifications of A, B and C. We further
narrowed the population by number of products being recalled, keeping
only the top 80 percent of cases by recall volume, for a final population of
78 recall cases. From this population, we randomly selected 13 class B
recall cases and 12 class C recall cases for our sample. 3 We determined
that the risk-assessment component of internal control was significant to
this objective, and we assessed CPSC’s policies and practices for recall
monitoring against the underlying principle that management should
define objectives clearly to enable the identification of risks and define
risk tolerances. Additionally, we determined that the information and
communication component of internal control was significant to this
objective, and we assessed CPSC’s practices for collecting and
monitoring information from firms against the underlying principle that
management should use quality information to achieve the agency’s
objectives. We assessed whether CPSC’s policies for recall monitoring


3The sample population only included one class-A recall case and was not randomly
selected for analysis.




Page 35                                 GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology




meet internal control standards and whether CPSC’s oversight practices
match its policies. Additionally, we assessed whether CPSC collects
information on firms’ recall progress in accordance with its policies and
uses this information to make decisions about recalls.

To address the fourth objective, we reviewed key performance indicators
used in CPSC’s Annual Performance Reports, data collection methods
CPSC uses to track recall effectiveness, and other documentation
relevant to CPSC’s assessment of recall effectiveness and use of best
practices. We reviewed documentation related to CPSC’s efforts to
consider and incorporate best practices for implementing recalls, such as
presentations by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,
Federal Trade Commission, Department of Agriculture, and Food and
Drug Administration from a 2017 workshop hosted by CPSC. Additionally,
we interviewed CPSC officials to understand the indicators, measures,
and evaluations CPSC uses to assess recall effectiveness and CPSC’s
methods for collecting data in this area. We compared CPSC’s practices
for collecting data on and assessing recall effectiveness with CPSC’s
goals. We assessed whether CPSC’s efforts to measure recall
effectiveness accurately capture recall effectiveness, and whether the
information CPSC collects from firms on recall progress could be updated
to improve CPSC’s ability to measure recall effectiveness.

We conducted this performance audit from November 2019 to November
2020 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing
standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to
obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for
our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe
that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings
and conclusions based on our audit objectives.




Page 36                              GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
Appendix II: Overview of CPSC’s Process for
              Appendix II: Overview of CPSC’s Process for
              Addressing Hazards Associated with


Addressing Hazards Associated with
              Regulated Products




Regulated Products
              The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has a six-stage
              process for addressing hazards associated with regulated product
              cases—which involve violations of statutes enforced by CPSC, such as
              the Consumer Product Safety Act, Federal Hazardous Substances Act, or
              the Flammable Fabrics Act. CPSC officials described these stages in a
              written response. CPSC’s Regulated Products Handbook, which provides
              recall guidance to CPSC stakeholders such as manufacturers or
              distributors, also described some of these stages. 1 This process includes
              the following:

              1. CPSC surveys the market for and firms report on violative products.
              2. CPSC staff evaluate evidence, including conducting sample testing.
              3. CPSC sends a notice of violation to the firm that includes a requested
                 corrective action.
              4. Firm agrees with or contests the notice of violation.
              5. If the firm agrees, CPSC monitors implementation of the accepted
                 corrective action.
              6. CPSC closes the case when the firm adequately implements the
                 corrective action.

              See figure 8 for an overview of the first four stages of CPSC’s regulated
              product process. CPSC officials told us that as of September 2020, they
              were developing new standard operating procedures for staff that detail
              steps they should take to manage regulated product cases.




              1Consumer  Product Safety Commission, Office of Compliance and Field Operations,
              Regulated Products Handbook, (Bethesda, Md.: May 2013).




              Page 37                                  GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
                                        Appendix II: Overview of CPSC’s Process for
                                        Addressing Hazards Associated with
                                        Regulated Products




Figure 8: First Four Stages of CPSC’s Process for Addressing Hazards Associated with Regulated Products, as of September
2020




                                        Page 38                                  GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
Appendix III: CPSC Participation in the
               Appendix III: CPSC Participation in the
               Development of Voluntary Standards


Development of Voluntary Standards

               Private sector standard-development organizations coordinate the
               process of developing most voluntary product safety standards. 1 The
               Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) participates in the
               process and collaborates with standard-development organizations and
               other stakeholders—which can include industry representatives and
               consumer advocates—to develop consensus-based voluntary standards.
               Stakeholders volunteer to participate in the standard-development
               process, which is conducted in accordance with the relevant standard-
               development organization’s own written policies and procedures. Such
               policies and procedures prescribe how the committees and
               subcommittees that develop voluntary standards operate, including rules
               on voting and how to maintain balance among participating stakeholder
               groups.

               CPSC officials told us that technical staff, such as those with expertise in
               specific products or risks, carry out the agency’s responsibilities for the
               voluntary standards in whose development CPSC chooses to participate.
               They said that because of the agency’s limited resources, CPSC
               prioritizes participating in standard development for products with the
               highest consumer product safety risks or where they think it will produce
               the greatest benefit to the public. The officials added that if CPSC does
               not have in-house technical expertise on a particular product or risk, the
               agency may still participate if the risk warrants the resource commitment,
               though they might opt to monitor the situation to learn more about the
               product and associated risks before actively participating.

               CPSC contributes to the development of voluntary standards primarily by
               engaging in the following activities:

               •   Voluntary standards proposals. CPSC submits to standard-
                   development organizations proposals for products it believes warrant
                   new voluntary standards or revisions to existing voluntary standards.
                   Products for which CPSC has proposed the development of voluntary
                   standards for include 3-D printers, portable fireplaces, and athletic
                   helmets.
               •   Committee leadership roles. CPSC staff may hold leadership
                   positions on voluntary standard-development committees and
                   subcommittees with approval from the Executive Director.
                   Responsibilities of a committee chair may include scheduling and

               1Examples of such standard-development organizations include the American National
               Standards Institute, Underwriters Laboratories, and ASTM International.




               Page 39                                   GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
Appendix III: CPSC Participation in the
Development of Voluntary Standards




    presiding over meetings, ensuring due process, and establishing task
    groups to address specific topics related to the proposed standard.
•   Technical comments and recommendations. CPSC staff often
    provide standard-development committees with technical comments
    and recommendations on proposed standards. Recommendations
    may include those related to performance requirements, the scope of
    products covered by the standard, and language on warning labels,
    among other matters.
•   Data sharing. CPSC may provide committees with hazard incident
    data, such as deaths or injuries associated with a product, to inform
    the development of the standards. For example, in February 2020,
    CPSC provided a committee developing a voluntary standard for
    electric-powered scooters with data on injuries associated with the
    scooters, including dates and severity of the injuries.
•   Voting on voluntary standards. Since 2016, CPSC staff are
    allowed, with the approval of the Office of the Executive Director, to
    exercise voting powers in the development of voluntary standards.
    CPSC officials noted that CPSC staff usually do not vote on the
    standards because CPSC’s vote would not affect the outcome. CPSC
    staff told us that providing comments on the development of
    standards has been a more effective way to influence decisions about
    the standards. CPSC officials told us that since 2016, 10 CPSC staff
    have been authorized to vote on 16 voluntary standards.

Although voluntary standards are not enforceable by law, CPSC officials
and representatives from a standard-development organization said that
the agency takes action to encourage manufacturer compliance. For
example, CPSC officials said that in instances where CPSC identifies
noncompliance with a standard, it may send letters to firms encouraging
implementation of the voluntary standard because it is considered a best
practice. They added that CPSC also conducts education campaigns for
consumers and training for manufacturers and retailers to help encourage
compliance. For example, officials from one standard-development
organization told us that their organization and CPSC staff have
conducted joint training sessions with manufacturers and exporters on
voluntary standards. In addition, CPSC’s Small Business Ombudsman
provides firms with information and resources regarding voluntary
standards on the CPSC website.

Stakeholders in the voluntary standard-development process generally
told us that CPSC makes valuable contributions to the development of



Page 40                                   GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
Appendix III: CPSC Participation in the
Development of Voluntary Standards




voluntary standards. Officials from one standard-development
organization said their organization has a close and collaborative
relationship with CPSC and considers it a valuable partner in the
standard-development process. In particular, they said CPSC technical
staff provide valuable information and analysis for the committees in
which they participate. Officials from another standard-development
organization also said that they have a positive relationship with CPSC
and that CPSC has been helpful at bringing consumer advocacy groups
into the process. Legal experts with whom we spoke described CPSC’s
role in the voluntary standard development process as appropriate and
positive, and one expert stated that the agency brings tremendous value
when it comes prepared to contribute to the development of a particular
product standard.




Page 41                                   GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
Appendix IV: Comments from the Consumer
             Appendix IV: Comments from the Consumer
             Product Safety Commission


Product Safety Commission




             Page 42                               GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
Appendix V: GAO Contact and Staff
                   Appendix V: GAO Contact and Staff
                   Acknowledgments


Acknowledgments

                   Alicia Puente Cackley, (202) 512-8678 or cackleya@gao.gov
GAO Contact
                   In addition to the contact above, John Fisher (Assistant Director), Jason
Staff              Wildhagen (Analyst in Charge), Karl Antonsson, Aaron Colsher, John
Acknowledgements   McGrail, Molly Miller, Marc Molino, Jennifer Schwartz, and Farrah Stone
                   made key contributions to this report.




(103953)
                   Page 43                             GAO-21-56 Consumer Product Safety Commission
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