CPSC made an announcement at the latest CPSC Safety Academy in Bethesda, MD regarding the public release of information that may comprise confidential business information (CBI). Attendees at a special meeting were told “of an impending change in the CPSC’s interpretation of its authority under section 6(b) as authorizing it to disclose preliminary, confidential information identifying the manufacturer of consumer products ‘under investigation’ by the Commission”. The extension of CPSC rights under section 6(b) are in conflict with prior CPSC procedure and, seemingly, with the intent of Section 6(b) itself.
Section 6(b)(1) states that information CPSC chooses to disclose should be “fair and accurate” to the affected company. Section 6(b)(5) requires that certain benchmarks need to be reached before CPSC makes any public disclosure of information that may damage a company’s reputation. The new CPSC policy indicates that the new approach will be to release information gathered as a result of a company’s own report to CPSC that a product defect exists as soon as possible.
A business coalition has submitted a letter to the CPSC declaring the new policy at odds with previous stated CPSC policy. Further, the coalition present the opinion that such a policy change ought to be subject to a review and comment period, as other CPSC actions typically receive. By releasing information concerning defective products that includes the manufacturer name, CPSC opposes its own history of resolving such issues in a way that minimizes the damage to the company and its public perception, where such resolution is practicable.
In the letter, the coalition maintains that smaller companies, self-reporting a product defect under Section 15(b), might not survive the loss of business that release of information to the media (and consequently to to the public) might entail. The coalition letter states: “The policy is not only unfair to those filing Section 15 reports, but it in fact undercuts the purposes of the Act [the CPSA] by focusing CPSC pronouncements on products for which corrective action might be required and diluting the CPSC’s message about recalls that are found to be necessary.”