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Government Shutdown Harming Trade and Consumer Safety, Congress Told

Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

The ongoing government shutdown is having a number of effects on businesses and consumers, lawmakers were told last week. Eight organizations sent a letter to members of Congress Oct. 11 enumerating the effects of the shutdown on consumer safety issues, and the majority staff of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation submitted a 29-page report the same day reviewing the shutdown’s effects on a wide range of consumer and business interests. Among the concerns expressed are the following.

- Only 23 Consumer Product Safety Commission employees (out of 540) remain on the job, none of whom are field investigators or port inspectors. The agency has virtually no resources to monitor, sample and conduct activities to enforce lead standards. CPSC rulemakings, recalls and civil penalty negotiations have been suspended unless deemed necessary to protect against imminent threats to human safety and protect government property. Saferproducts.gov, the agency’s consumer incident data base, is receiving reports but will not be publishing them.

- The Food and Drug Administration has furloughed about 45% of its staff and is unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition and cosmetics activities. FDA will not conduct routine food safety inspections and some compliance and enforcement activities and will not be monitoring imports. Much of the laboratory and scientific research necessary to inform public health decision-making also will not be conducted.

- Most Department of Agriculture inspectors of meat and poultry continue to work and the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service will continue manning every meat production facility with full-time inspectors. However, a meat and poultry hot line consumers can call for information about food safety or to report problems is closed.

- The Environmental Protection Agency furloughed 96% of its employees and programs to regulate pesticides have been halted. Some limited enforcement activities continue, but with skeletal staff. The Energy Star program for certifying energy efficient appliances and electronics is closed.

- The Justice Department’s Antitrust Division has furloughed 63% of its workforce, which could impair enforcement activities that protect consumers against harm from anticompetitive business conduct.

- Less than 2% of the Federal Communication Commission’s employees remain on the job, and activities that have ceased include equipment authorizations, which bring new electronic devices to the public.

- The closure of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Aircraft Registry Office, which has to register any aircraft that is sold domestically, exported or imported for commercial or private use, has effectively shut down aircraft deliveries.

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