EDITORIAL: The red tape stimulus

Safety bureaucrats need a lesson in economic reality

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The latest dictates from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) will drive up the cost of manufacturing products intended for children. The agency adopted a pair of new rules in July and August implementing the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, but as drafted, these regulations will force companies to waste time and money on redundant testing programs solely for the entertainment of bureaucratic busybodies.

Anne Northup, one of the agency’s five commissioners, has waged an often lonely fight in favor of common sense on this issue. She opposed the requirement for third-party testing of mattresses, carpets and other products intended for children when those items already are tested under existing laws. The redundant examinations, mostly checking flammability, can be prohibitively expensive. For instance, the regulations could require a manufacturer to build a queen-sized-bed prototype of a baby’s crib just so it can be tested in an independent lab. Yet each of the component parts - the crib-sized mattresses, blankets and all other component parts - already are individually tested for the same hazards when manufactured.

“It adds costs, and it adds complexity at a time when businesses already are unlikely to invest in new jobs,” Mrs. Northup told The Washington Times. “Furthermore, it’s hard to imagine that we would ever have a new mattress maker or a new carpet maker that would ever get into the children’s product area because it’s just too complex.”

Manufacturers also fear a March commission ruling that established the civil penalties that may be assessed against those that fail to jump through the newly established regulatory hoops. As is typical in Washington, the new scheme offers no guarantee that technical mistakes won’t be penalized as if they were genuine safety hazards.

“To use a traffic law analogy,” Mrs. Northup wrote last March, “an out-of-date parking permit (a paper violation) is not the same kind of offense as running a red light (a real safety violation) and the Commission could have said explicitly that it would not treat the two kinds of violations the same way.” But it didn’t.

The net result is that already struggling firms will be hit with major and unnecessary expenses at a time when the economy is hurting. Parents will end up with fewer choices while paying higher costs. With unemployment hovering just under 10 percent, it makes no sense for federal consumer safety czars to dream up new ways to kill jobs.

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