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General Government: Consumer Product Safety Oversight (2015-04)

More formal and comprehensive coordination among federal agencies is needed to help increase efficiency and effectiveness related to consumer product safety oversight and address challenges related to fragmentation and overlap.

Action:

Congress should consider transferring the oversight of the markings of toy and imitation firearms in section 5001 of title 15 of the U.S. Code from the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Progress:

No legislative action identified. The Gun Look-Alike Case Act, H.R. 3224, which was introduced on July 27, 2015, in the 114th Congress, would transfer the authority to regulate the markings of toy, look-alike, and imitation firearms in section 5001 of title 15 of the U.S. Code from NIST to CPSC, as GAO suggested in November 2014. This bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade of the Committee on Energy and Commerce in the United States House of Representatives, and did not pass out of committee. This bill was not reintroduced in the 115th Congress and, as of March 2020, has not been reintroduced by the 116th Congress. Continued regulation of the marking of toy and imitation firearms by NIST rather than CPSC does not leverage each agency’s expertise and therefore may not be the most efficient use of scarce federal resources.

Implementing Entity:

Congress

Action:

Congress should consider establishing a formal comprehensive oversight mechanism for consumer product safety agencies to address crosscutting issues as well as inefficiencies related to fragmentation and overlap such as communication and coordination challenges and jurisdictional questions between agencies. Different types of formal mechanisms could include, for example, creating a memorandum of understanding to formalize relationships and agreements or establishing a task force or interagency work group. As a starting point, Congress may wish to obtain agency input on options for establishing more formal coordination.

Progress:

As of March 2020, no legislation was identified that would establish a collaborative mechanism to facilitate communication across the relevant agencies and to help enable them to collectively address crosscutting issues, as GAO suggested in November 2014. Some of the agencies with direct regulatory oversight responsibilities for consumer product safety reported that they continue to collaborate to address specific consumer product safety topics. However, without a formal comprehensive oversight mechanism, the agencies risk missing opportunities to better leverage resources and address challenges, including those related to fragmentation and overlap.

Implementing Entity:

Congress

Action:

The U.S. Coast Guard and Consumer Product Safety Commission should establish a formal approach to coordination (such as a memorandum of understanding) to facilitate information sharing and better leveraging of resources.

Progress:

In May 2015, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Consumer Product Safety Commission signed a formal policy document to govern their coordination, as GAO recommended in November 2014. This policy document outlined procedures for determining jurisdictional authority for recreational boat-associated equipment and marine safety items. According to the policy document, each agency, upon receiving notice of a possible defect in an item of recreational boat-associated equipment or a marine safety item, shall determine whether the item properly falls within the jurisdiction of that agency. If the receiving agency determines that the agency does not, or may not, have proper oversight authority over the item, the agency shall contact the responsible office of the other agency to initiate discussions to determine the appropriate jurisdiction and the best course of action to take regarding the possibly defective item. Establishing a formal approach to coordination should help to facilitate information sharing and the leveraging of resources among the agencies to help ensure that recreational boat-associated equipment and marine safety items are fully regulated.

Implementing Entity:

Consumer Product Safety Commission, U.S. Coast Guard
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    • Alicia Puente Cackley
    • Director, Financial Markets and Community Investment
    • cackleya@gao.gov
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