Lawmakers Want to Eliminate Only Government Product Safety Complaints Database

Congress members say consumer site wastes taxpayer money and hurts businesses.

July 6, 2011 — -- With lawmakers still debating the deficit and whether to raise the nation's debt ceiling past $14.29 trillion, the only government sponsored online product safety database is near its end.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's (CPSC) online database,, just launched in March, but the House Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill late last month decreasing the Commission's budget and eliminating funding for its online database. The bill, which needs approval of the House and Senate, could be on the House floor as early as the middle of next week, according to Jennifer Hing, communications director of the House Appropriations Committee.

"CPSC's database is an example of a poorly executed regulatory policy that does not protect consumers and hurts business at a time when industries need our help the most," Hing said.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) introduced a provision on page 90 of the bill that for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2012. The provision states "none of the funds made available by this act may be used to carry out any of the activities described in section 6A of the Consumer Product Safety Act," saving about $3 million.

The database was mandated by section 6a in 2008, when President Bush signed the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act, regulating products for children under 12. That law was an update to the Consumer Products Safety Act in 1972. In 2008, the law was passed 89-3 in the Senate and 424-1 in the House. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), candidate for the Republican presidential ticket, was the only dissenter.

Out of the database's 1,600 complaints, 104 were found to have inaccuracies by the Commission, mostly related to an incorrect manufacturer.

Alex Filip, CPSC spokesman, said the Commission has received strong support for the database from consumers, who submit the majority of complaints. Another large source of complaints are from medical professionals.

Filip said the Commission vets the complaints before posting them online. Once a consumer submits a complaint, the Commission has 5 days to contact the manufacturer. The Commission posts the report and any comments received 10 days after notifying the manufacturer. Filip said manufacturers can submit comments at anytime.

Consumers must describe the product, identify a manufacturer or private labeler, describe whether there was any injury, and verify that the report is true and accurate to the best of their knowledge.

Anonymous complaints may be submitted to the commission but consumers must submit their name and mailing address for their complaint to be posted publicly on the website.

Some consumers have submitted claims and learned their products have been recalled, with instructions on how to return the product and sometimes receive a refund.

One complaint, filed on April 21, was about a particular model of the Skybar Air Pump Wine Opener. The consumer, a 56-year-old Massachusetts resident spending a winter evening with his family, said a bottle of wine exploded in his hands when he used the pump for the first time.

"I inserted the tool into the bottle of wine per the included instructions and pumped it three or four times, to my surprise the cork did not come out as I thought it would," he wrote in the complaint. "I pumped it another two times, on the last pump it felt it pumped harder than it did at the beginning. I thought to myself, I hope this doesn't overpressure the bottle and explode and then it happened, the bottle burst right in my hand on the counter."

As a result, the man said he had a deep cut on his left hand and a mess of spilled wine.

The manufacturer, Jarden Consumer Solutions, responded the day after it received the complaint, informing the consumer it should stop using the recalled wine bottle opener.

Jarden Consumer Solutions did not respond to an additional request for comment from ABC News.

But lawmakers say the database is flawed and must go.

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) introduced legislation in February prohibiting funds to implement the database. The bill passed in the House 234 to 187.

"I was and continue to be concerned about information posted online that could mislead consumers," Pompeo said. "The rule that the CPSC put into place did not reflect what Congress had told them to do.The database represents a real risk that it will have data that will not be verified. Consumers may be steered to products that may or may not be safe."

Pompeo said there are other more effective means to help protect consumers not funded by the government, such as Consumer Reports or contacting manufacturers directly. He said the government should not post information online "unless it knows the information to be accurate."

"The challenge isn't the concept of the database," he said. "The challenge is that the implementation is terrible and it will spend lots of taxpayer money at a time we won't have it. But without the benefit we all wish we could have, safer toys. Everyone wants children to be safe."

Lawmakers have cited CPSC's risk assessment and enforcement divisions as alternatives to the online database. In those divisions, scientists work with manufacturers to analyze possible product defects.

"The administration has not implemented this database to prioritize accuracy, making it a poor resource for consumers and a waste of taxpayer money, as well as harmful to manufacturers who bear the consequences for frivolous claims," Hing said.

Emerson, who is the chair of the Appropriations' committee subcommittee on financial services and general government, was not available for comment.

The Consumer Products Safety Commission isn't the only agency that may face slashed budgets. Proposed funding for the Treasury Department, Executive Office of the President, the Judiciary, District of Columbia, Small Business Administration, General Services Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission and other agencies was $2 billion, or 9 percent, below last year's funds.

The bill's $19.9 billion in funding for those agencies is also nearly $6 billion below the president's fiscal year 2012 request, according to House Appropriations Committee.

The National Association of Manufacturers said the online database had "administrative flaws" during its soft launch in January, including the inclusion of complaints that did not directly involve "harm," a precondition to posting a complaint online.

Filip said companies have also provided "very good cooperation" with responsiveness, though there are also companies that choose not to respond.

"For whatever reason, we have had companies silent about their product," he said.

Filip said the database has been "beneficial for us doing our work and for consumers looking for information about products."

Prior to the online database, those interested in reading complaints about a product had to submit a request through the Freedom of Information Act.

"That would take a significant amount of time," he said.