Consumer Product Safety Commission:

Actions Needed to Improve Processes for Addressing Product Defect Cases

GAO-21-56: Published: Nov 19, 2020. Publicly Released: Nov 19, 2020.

Multimedia:

  • PODCAST: How the Consumer Product Safety Commission Protects Consumers from Hazards And How It Can Improve

    The Consumer Product Safety Commission is a small agency of about 500 full-time employees tasked with protecting U.S. shoppers from product hazards that could cause injury or even death. We talk with GAO's Alicia Puente Cackley--an expert on consumer protection issues and a director in our Financial Markets and Community Investment Team--about a new report on how CPSC protects consumers and the challenges it faces.

    View the transcript

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Alicia Puente Cackley
(202) 512-8678
cackleya@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is responsible for ensuring the safety of consumer products ranging from children's toys to off-road vehicles.

We found ways the Commission could improve its response to product hazards. This includes:

Developing policies for prioritizing new cases based on potential risk to consumers and other factors

Exploring measures that can provide a more comprehensive assessment of recall effectiveness

Establishing policies to better manage the timeliness of its response to product hazards

We made 5 recommendations to address these and other issues.

Close up of a person's hand pressing a button on a computer keyboard that says, "Consumer Product Safety Commission"

Multimedia:

  • PODCAST: How the Consumer Product Safety Commission Protects Consumers from Hazards And How It Can Improve

    The Consumer Product Safety Commission is a small agency of about 500 full-time employees tasked with protecting U.S. shoppers from product hazards that could cause injury or even death. We talk with GAO's Alicia Puente Cackley--an expert on consumer protection issues and a director in our Financial Markets and Community Investment Team--about a new report on how CPSC protects consumers and the challenges it faces.

    View the transcript

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Alicia Puente Cackley
(202) 512-8678
cackleya@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has recently taken steps intended to strengthen its processes for addressing consumer product defect cases, such as by developing a web portal to facilitate firms' participation in its Fast Track program for expedited recalls. However, GAO found several areas in which CPSC could improve how it responds to consumer product hazards:

Prioritizing resources. CPSC does not follow steps described in its procedures for prioritizing resources for newly opened cases based on the potential risk to consumer safety associated with a product. Establishing and following specific procedures for prioritizing new cases based on relevant case-specific factors, such as the potential risk to consumer safety, could help ensure CPSC staff consistently allocate staff resources to cases based on these factors. CPSC staff conduct “recall effectiveness checks,” such as by confirming that recalled products were removed from shelves and that appropriate signage was placed in stores for consumers to see. However, GAO found that CPSC does not consistently assign more checks to higher-risk recalls. By developing more formal written procedures on how to determine how many checks to assign, CPSC could provide staff with tools to more effectively prioritize resources to higher-risk cases.

Ensuring compliance with reporting requirements. CPSC does not centrally track whether firms undertaking recalls have submitted required monthly progress reports. GAO found that only 61 percent of firms had submitted their progress reports more than 75 percent of the time for recalls closed between February 2016 and May 2020. Taking steps to ensure firms' compliance with the monthly reporting requirement could improve CPSC's ability to monitor the status of product recalls.

Measuring recall effectiveness. CPSC uses one performance metric to assess the effectiveness of recalls—the correction rate. This metric represents the proportion of product units recalled that have been refunded, replaced, or repaired. However, using a single measure may not allow CPSC to accurately gauge the effectiveness of all its recalls—for example, for cheap products consumers may simply throw away (rather than seek a refund or replacement) in response to the recall. Using additional performance measures could help CPSC more accurately assess the 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.

Why GAO Did This Study

CPSC is responsible for ensuring the safety of thousands of consumer products ranging from children's toys to off-road recreational vehicles.

GAO was asked to review CPSC's processes for addressing product safety hazards. Among other objectives, 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) overseen firms' compliance with corrective action plans and taken steps to address noncompliance; and (3) taken steps to assess the effectiveness of different types of corrective actions.

GAO reviewed CPSC policies and procedures, prior GAO reports, and other published studies. GAO also interviewed CPSC commissioners and staff, legal experts, and representatives from consumer and industry organizations.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making five recommendations to CPSC to improve its processes for prioritizing resources, overseeing firms' compliance, measuring recall effectiveness, and managing the timeliness of product defect cases. CPSC generally agreed with GAO's findings and said it supported the recommendations.

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

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: 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)

    Agency Affected: Consumer Product Safety Commission

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: 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)

    Agency Affected: Consumer Product Safety Commission

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: 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)

    Agency Affected: Consumer Product Safety Commission

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: 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)

    Agency Affected: Consumer Product Safety Commission

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: 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)

    Agency Affected: Consumer Product Safety Commission

 

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