Consumer Product Safety Commission:

Better Data Needed to Help Identify and Analyze Potential Hazards

HEHS-97-147: Published: Sep 29, 1997. Publicly Released: Oct 23, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Consumer Product Safety Commission's (CPSC) project selection, use of cost-benefit analysis and risk assessment, and information release procedures, focusing on: (1) the criteria CPSC uses to select projects and the information it relies upon in making these choices; (2) the information CPSC draws on to perform risk assessment and cost-benefit analyses and CPSC's methodology for conducting cost-benefit analyses; and (3) CPSC's procedures for releasing manufacturer-specific information to the public and whether evidence exists that CPSC violated its statutory requirements concerning the release of such information.

GAO noted that: (1) although CPSC has established criteria to help select new projects, with the agency's current data these criteria can be measured only imprecisely, if at all; (2) although CPSC has described itself as "data driven," its information on product-related injuries and deaths is often sketchy; (3) this makes it more difficult not only for agency management to monitor current projects but also for staff and commissioners to assess and prioritize the need for new projects in different hazard areas; (4) CPSC has insufficient data on both internal agency efforts and external product hazards to assess the impact and cost of each project; (5) to help evaluate alternative methods of addressing potential hazards, CPSC may perform a risk assessment to estimate the likelihood of injury associated with a hazard or conduct a cost-benefit analysis to assess the potential effects of a proposed regulation; (6) although CPSC does not complete either a risk assessment or cost-benefit analysis for every project, the agency conducts these analyses more often than it is required to by law; (7) nevertheless, CPSC's data are often insufficient to support a thorough application of these analytical techniques; (8) to evaluate relative risks, it is usually necessary to have information on how many consumers use the product--information that CPSC frequently does not have; (9) risk assessment of consumer products requires measurement of the number of harmful incidents; (10) CPSC's imprecise and incomplete death and injury data make risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis at best less reliable and at worst impossible to do; (11) the cost-benefit analyses conducted by CPSC between 1990 and 1996 were often not comprehensive; (12) CPSC has established procedures to implement statutory requirements concerning the release of manufacturer-specific information; (13) when releasing information to the public that identifies a specific manufacturer, CPSC is required to verify the information and allow the manufacturer an opportunity to comment; (14) evidence from the industry and from legal cases suggests that CPSC has met its statutory requirements in this area; (15) individuals within CPSC, as well as some industry representatives and consumer groups, expressed dissatisfaction with the requirements of this law; and (16) some of these individuals have proposed statutory changes that range from reducing to expanding the current requirements.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: CPSC has met with other federal agencies to consider expanding CPSC's system for collecting data on injuries and has initiated a feasibility study of collecting such additional information. However, CPSC has neither taken nor planned actions to address other areas covered by the recommendation, such as investigating potential improvements in the agency's exposure data.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, CPSC, should improve the quality of CPSC's injury, death, and exposure data by consulting with experts both within and outside the agency to: (1) prioritize CPSC's needs for additional statistically valid surveillance data on injuries and deaths related to consumer products and on exposure to consumer products and product-related hazards; (2) investigate the feasibility and cost of alternative means of obtaining these data; and (3) design data systems to collect and analyze this information.

    Agency Affected: Consumer Product Safety Commission

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The agency has developed a project tracking system to monitor ongoing projects. This system includes the elements specified in the recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, CPSC, should direct agency staff to develop and implement a project management tracking system to compile information on current agency projects. For each project, such a system should include, at a minimum, a description of the hazard addressed, start and end dates, project origin, and major agency action resulting from it.

    Agency Affected: Consumer Product Safety Commission

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: CPSC has implemented this recommendation, directing staff to ensure that agency cost-benefit analyses contain the elements specified and directing supervisors to review analyses to ensure that they are comprehensive and reported in sufficient detail.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, CPSC, should direct agency staff to develop and implement procedures to ensure that all cost-benefit analyses performed on behalf of CPSC are comprehensive and reported in sufficient detail, including providing measures of precision for underlying data, incorporating information on all important costs and benefits, and performing sensitivity analysis.

    Agency Affected: Consumer Product Safety Commission


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