CPSC database to make complaints transparent

Tuesday - 1/18/2011, 10:42am EST

Scott Wolfson, director, Office of Information and Public Affairs, CPSC

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By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

A new database to launch in March will change the way the Consumer Product Safety Commission investigates consumer complaints.

"A database is a great way in our electronic age to serve that purpose - to have a great, open government resource and do our job as investigators," said Scott Wolfson, director of CPSC's Office of Information and Public Affairs, in an interview with the Federal Drive.

With the new database, consumer reports will be submitted electronically to CPSC. Within five days, CPSC will send send an email to the manufacturer, who then has ten days to respond to the report.

Unless there is a material inaccuracy or confidential information, the report will be posted on the database within 15 days of the initial submission. Businesses will have the chance to attach comments to any report, Wolfson said.

By making the reports public through the database, consumers will be able to go to saferproducts.gov to research a product they already own or one they are considering buying.

Some industry groups have objected to the database, claiming it allows people to slam products they don't like, The Washington Post reports.

Wolfson said the database will not be used for customers to complain about customer service or about a product that didn't do everything they wanted to it to do.

"This database is about incidents that have both the potential to harm and have caused physical harm to the consumer," Wolfson said.

Wolfson said the department will be "staffing up" in preparation for the database, adding that many employees already at CPSC have the experience to work on the database.

The database is the biggest open government project at CPSC, Wolfson said. The system was created from a 2008 consumer protection law.

CPSC takes complaints now but those reports are not in public view. To access reports, consumers had to file a public-records request. Then CPSC had to consult with the manufacturer to release any information about the product. To pull a dangerous product from the market, CPSC had to negotiate a recall, "a process that can take months or years," The Post reports.

The new database will change all of that.

"With the power of the Internet, we want [consumers] reporting and understanding you can play a role in public service by telling the government about an incident so that we can protect others," Wolfson said.