A significant and surprising leadership change is coming to the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) at a critical time. Commissioners voted 3-2 Sept. 13 to elevate Robert Adler to the post of vice chairman. That puts him in line to follow Ann Marie Buerkle as acting chairman when she steps down from that post Sept. 30.
Adler, who has served on the commission for the past 10 years, is a Democrat. Three commissioners, including Buerkle, are Republicans. She voted for Adler, explaining that “consumer protection is not political.” The agency’s leader should “be the most experienced, most senior commissioner who has previously served in this role,” she said.
The two other Republican commissioners, Dana Baiocco and Peter Feldman, joined the commission last year. Buerkle plans to remain as a member of the commission through October, when she intends to retire. Although she was a former Republican member of Congress from New York, she was nominated to serve on the CPSC by then-President Barack Obama in 2013.
President Trump nominated Buerkle to chair the commission in 2017, but she was never confirmed by the Senate. He nominated her again this year, but the Senate still failed to act. Her departure will give Trump a chance to put new leadership in place. But a vacant seat will leave two Republicans and two Democrats to steer the agency, creating uncertainty and possible deadlocks.
Vacancy would leave divided CPSC
“While the White House considers nominees to replace Buerkle, the 2-2 split likely means that nothing significant will change at the commission in the interim,” said Chris Andresen, vice president of Dutko Government Relations in Washington, D.C. “The CPSC will continue to follow its current operating plan with bipartisan consensus needed to advance issues through commission votes. Given that the commission will not effectively be run by a Democrat under a Republican administration, that could provide motivation for the White House to nominate a replacement sooner.”
The leadership shuffle occurs when CPSC is moving toward a regulation on furniture stability. This is an issue of great importance to Home Furnishings Association members. The CPSC is testing clothing storage units covered by ASTM’s voluntary stability standard and has issued recalls of products that failed to meet those guidelines. It also may be considering stricter requirements. But a divided commission may be less likely to agree on final action.
“We will continue to monitor home furnishings-related items such as expected staff briefing packages on furniture tip-overs and upholstered furniture flammability,” said Andresen, who represents HFA in the nation’s capital.
Meanwhile, congressional action could force CPSC to set a mandatory standard. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the STURDY Act by voice vote Sept. 17. Introduced by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), the Stop Tip-Overs of Risky Dressers on Youth Act of 2019 requires more rigorous testing of clothing storage units. A similar bill in the Senate has not yet been considered.
Regulatory summit focuses on safety
CPSC Commissioner Feldman and staff engineer Michael Taylor will speak at the American Home Furnishing Alliance Regulatory Summit Oct. 2 in Colfax, N.C. Taylor should provide an update on furniture stability testing.
The event also features a retail panel including HFA members Jameson Dion of City Furniture and Greg Crowley of Crowley Furniture & Mattress. They, and Chris Fox of Raymour & Flanigan, will talk about their leadership on furniture safety initiatives.