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From Products Liability Law Daily, October 14, 2013

Senate committee report finds Government shutdown threatens product and motor vehicle safety

By Joe Bichl

Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) released a report offering a snapshot of the impact the government shutdown is having on the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), as well as other agencies (Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, Impacts of the 2013 Government Shutdown,  October 11, 2013). Entitled “Impacts of the 2013 Government Shutdown,” the report was made public at a hearing on October 11.

Background. As has been well-documented, on October 1, 2013, approximately 800,000 federal employees were furloughed from agencies across the federal government. According to documents submitted by agencies to the Office of Management and Budget and other sources, the Senate Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over a large majority of the furloughed staff.

Impact on CPSC. Approximately 25 CPSC staff remain at work as 95 percent of the Commission’s 530-employee workforce has been furloughed, according to the report, including those who work on hazard identification and reduction, compliance and field operations, import surveillance, and the general counsel’s office.

The report describes the following impacts the shutdown is having to CPSC:

  • All product safety investigations, civil penalty negotiations, and any enforcement proceedings or recalls that do not meet the threshold of involving a “substantial and immediate threat to the safety of human life” have ceased.
  • All port inspectors in the field have been furloughed, preventing CPSC from screening products at ports of entry. According to Commission statistics, in the first half of FY 2012, inspectors prevented over 1 million units of “violative” products from reaching the U.S. market, including children’s products containing excessive lead content, and children’s sleepwear that violated flammability standards.
  • CPSC has stopped publishing reports of “harm and potential harm” on its website, which each month typically receives over 100,000 visits and publishes over 1,000 reports.

Impact on NHTSA. NHTSA employs 597 employees in Washington, DC, and in regional offices across the country, the report indicated. Of that total, 337 work on the vehicle safety programs that are funded through annual appropriations. The other 259 work on highway safety behavioral programs and are funded through the Highway Trust Fund. As a result of the shutdown, 333 employees out of the 337 whose work relates to vehicle safety have been furloughed.

According to the committee report, shutdown impacts include:

  • All crash investigators have been furloughed. As a result, NHTSA has been unable to send Special Crash Investigations teams to any crashes during the shutdown.
  • NHTSA is not influencing the recall process. Statistics indicated that on average, vehicle manufacturers issue more than 400 recalls per year, with most involving some form of agency contact. The agency is not reviewing any safety data submitted during the shutdown, including regular reports from vehicle manufacturers, consumer complaints, and reports from manufacturers regarding potential defects.
  • All safety defect investigations that were open at the time of the shutdown are on hold. These include investigations into possible loss of transmission power in certain Nissan vehicles, allegations of fires in the front passenger area on certain Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles, and reports of unexpected braking on certain Honda minivans.

MainStory: TopStory CPSCNewsStory NHTSANewsStory IndustryNewsStory


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