Consumer database goes live March 11 despite House action

New database to publish consumer complaints about alleged unsafe products

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) expects to launch its new database as scheduled on March 11 despite House-approved legislation that would ban funding the database's operation, a spokesman said today.

“We are on time, on budget, and expect to roll out on Friday,” said Alex Filip, a spokesman for the CPSC.

The new searchable database was authorized by Congress in 2008 to offer consumers an opportunity to review complaints about allegedly unsafe products before they buy them. Currently, the commission receives thousands of such reports a year and, once the allegations are investigated, can publish recall notices.

In the new database, reports of alleged unsafe products may be submitted by agencies, nonprofits, businesses and consumers. Each submitted report is reviewed by the agency for up to five days, and then manufacturers are given 10 additional days to add a comment on the report, or request a modification, before it is published online in the database.

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Consumer Products Safety Commission bringing product reports to the Web

Once it is operational, consumers may search for categories of products, such as cribs and infant carriers, or for products produced in a particular state, or for specific products and manufacturers.

The new database currently is in a soft-launch phase, with new data being collected, but no new reports being published until approximately 15 days after the March 11 launch.

“This is a big step forward for consumers,” Filip said, adding that the new database also will help the agency in identifying trends in dangerous products more quickly.

However, funding has been under attack in the House from lawmakers who allege it would include misinformation and could be gamed. To protect against such concerns, the CPSC has built in safeguards against misinformation, Filip said, including the internal reviews and comments from the manufacturer. The agency also requires people to certify that their submissions are truthful, and has enforcement powers to remove false statements and to level fines against violations of federal rules on promulgating false information, he said.

The House approved legislation from Rep. Michael Pompeo (R-Kan.) on Feb. 18 that would block the commission from spending any funds to operate the new product safety database. Pompeo and supporters suggested that the database would contain misinformation and would hurt businesses and the economy.

Pompeo's amendment is part of the House-approved budget package now pending in the Senate, and Senate Democrats led by Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) are seeking its removal. On March 4, Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee released their own version of the budget that specifically called for restoring the consumer products database funding.

“CPSC has invested $3 million to complete the database and it is officially set to launch on March 11,” the Senate Democrats said in a news release. “The rider prevents CPSC from launching and maintaining the database. Without the CPSC database, the agency will be forced to continue its outdated and inefficient method of searching a variety of 'silos' for emerging product hazard trends. This will result in a waste of CPSC resources.”

The new database is part of a broader overhaul of the agency’s systems and Web presence, Filip said. Later this year, the entire site will be redesigned for more usability, better search functions and links to social media sites, he said.

“Over the years, things had been jerry-rigged together, so we decided it was time for a complete redesign,” Filip said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.


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