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Op-ed: Congress must do more for consumer safety

BY CONGRESSWOMAN GRACE MENG

Teething products causing gagging, dolls presenting choking hazards, toys containing excessive amounts of lead — these represent just some of the harrowing cases of dangerous imported consumer products of the past year. As global trade accelerates inexorably, we must be more vigilant than ever about the quality and safety of imported products. Fortunately, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has developed a new, state-of-the-art risk assessment program that has proven itself capable of protecting Americans from unsafe imported consumer products. But Congress is woefully underfunding the program, imperiling the safety of American families.

In 2013, more 235,000 importers brought a total of $723 billion worth of consumer products into the United States, an average of about $2 billion per day. And in that year, more than 80 percent of consumer product recalls involved an imported product.
In response to the rise in consumer product dangers and recalls in the past decade, the CPSC developed a Risk Assessment Methodology (“RAM”) pilot program for identifying dangerous imported consumer products. Through the program, the CPSC has stationed more inspectors at ports, and it has developed a risk-scoring software that identifies potentially problematic consumer products and the containers on which they are traveling.

This pilot program has proven effective. In 2013, CPSC conducted 26,491 screenings at U.S. ports — screenings which led to more than 12.5 million units of violative imports being prevented from reaching the hands of consumers. But the RAM pilot program is relatively small, with funding enabling surveillance on only 1 to 2 percent of imported goods within CPSC jurisdiction. Due to resource constraints, the CPSC has only been able to staff about 5 percent of the more than 300 U.S. ports.

Notwithstanding the great success of the RAM pilot and the low levels of funding, the budget proposed by the House Republicans could result in even lower funding for this valuable program and its software development. House Democrats should therefore seek revision of the CPSC funding bill in order to strengthen the RAM program and set it on a sustainable, long-term course. I will also be introducing legislation that would authorize a small CPSC user fee at our ports, bringing in significant resources for the RAM program at no cost to the U.S. taxpayer.
The evidence is clear: put import surveillance on a sustainable course, and the country will be safer.

Congresswoman Meng represents the Sixth Congressional District covering much of northeastern and central Queens.

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