Remember those lead-tainted toys from China? Or the Florida condos built with thousands of sheets of foreign-produced drywall allegedly made of toxic materials?
It turns out Uncle Sam has tied one-arm behind his back when it comes to keeping Americans safe from dangerous imported goods.
The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, two weeks ago released a little-noticed report warning that the Consumer Product Safety Commission lacks the legal authority to enter into agreements with other governments to share information about dangerous products.
The U.S. consumer safety system is overwhelmed by the enormity of expanding global trade. The federal product safety commission had jurisdiction over $637 billion worth of foreign imports in 2010 – a tidal wave of consumer goods that was nearly impossible to inspect or test.
Governments increasingly are cooperating with each other to share confidential – or “nonpublic” to use legal jargon – information about concerns they have about products that merit increased scrutiny. A free and frank discussion between nations about possible consumer safety threats is, frankly, wise.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission “could potentially obtain nonpublic information on product-related hazards from its foreign counterparts, but its legal restrictions on public disclosure of information have hampered its ability to establish information-sharing agreements,” the report to Congress concluded.
All three members of the safety commission, in a statement released by Chairwoman Inez Tenenbaum, agreed with the GAO’s findings and are asking for “more flexibility to exchange information with our counterparts in other countries through agreements that permit reciprocal terms on disclosure of information.”
We agree. The federal safety officials should not be legally hamstrung in sharing information about potentially dangerous products with foreign governments to keep American consumers safer from dangerous products.