CPSC Has Only One Full-Time Toy Tester

The CPSC is so underfunded that they can only afford one full-time toy tester, and his impact test area is located in the swing area behind the door to his cramped office, NYT reports.

The current administration has cut back the agency’s budget during the past seven years, down to $62 million last year.

When Suzanne Barone, the CPSC former poison prevention head, quit in frustration, she said, “Buyer beware, — that is all I have to say.”

Safety Agency Faces Scrutiny Amid Changes [NYT]
(Photo: Damon Winter)

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  1. Angiol says:

    Well, maybe that’s how he does impact testing: via the impact of the opening door.

  2. ChrisC1234 says:

    How about a squadron of volunteer testers… They can send me toys and I’ll break them for free :)

  3. dmolavi says:

    caption contest!!!!

    “Awww, crap, I broke another one :( “

  4. Chicago7 says:

    He sure does look downhearted.

    And you can almost see the guy peering over the partition shaking his head: “That guy breaks EVERYTHING!”

  5. not_seth_brundle says:

    That is the awesomest picture ever, with the little office and the guy cowering for cover behind that cubicle partition in case the toy train explodes…

  6. Bubblemushrooms says:

    No wonder there are so many toy recalls lately. That is totally ridiculous with so many of us willing to play with their toys for free.

  7. timmus says:

    I love the little rubber duck on the shelf at the far left.

  8. Chicago7 says:

    That guy must really be hopping around Christmas time!

    /He’s actually only 23 years old!!!

  9. Kryndis says:

    Am I the only one who was tickled by the fact that he’s wearing a lab coat?

  10. Cowboys_fan says:

    I’m shocked they have a toy-tester at all, or a full-time employee for that matter. Now, how do I become a F/T toy tester???

  11. thepounder says:

    There’s an easy fix, and it’s already been alluded to by CHRISC1234… just search for volunteers, and in turn send them a little packet that informs the volunteer testers how to go about their testing duties & the testing criteria.
    This should be a non-issue really…

    On to the fun –
    I love that they call it his “impact test area”… because it looks to me like just a space on the floor to drop/smash things. I would be exceptional at this job. And if there’s only one full-time employee I wonder who the guy hiding behind the divider is?

    CPSC… ask for volunteers.

  12. Chicago7 says:

    @Kryndis:

    A good question: what SHOULD a toy tester be wearing? I vote for: fuzzy slippers, PJs, and a fake glasses/mustache deal!

  13. Toof_75_75 says:

    …Damn train…

  14. thepounder says:

    @Kryndis: Well, you wouldn’t want to get plastic caterpillar train parts splattered all over your nice tie now would you? (at least it looks to me like a plastic caterpillar train, but whatever…)

    And why is he not wearing safety glasses and a face shield? /kidding

  15. lawnmowerdeth says:

    “Only” 62 million. Before whining about budget cuts, maybe they should explain what the heck else they are they doing with all that money.

  16. Aww tha wittle guy wants his turn on the toy.

  17. QuantumRiff says:

    They have a budget of $62 Million, and only have 1 tester? How many “layers” of management is that, or else where the hell does the money go?

  18. Kryndis says:

    @QuantumRiff: They only have one toy tester. The CPSC tests more than just toys.

  19. @dmolavi:
    Guy behind wall: “He’s not doing it right!”
    Guy in lab coat: “What the heck am I testing for? It doesn’t even use batteries!”

    1 test = bad, bad, bad
    When I have kids they are only getting old toys.

  20. @Rectilinear Propagation: Sorry, 1 tester

  21. Jiminy Christmas says:

    @lawnmowerdeth: Read the article much?

    The commission’s shrinking budget is just $62 million this year, even though the agency regulates an industry that sells $1.4 trillion annually. The Food and Drug Administration, with a $2 billion budget, spends nearly twice as much monitoring the safety of animal feed and drugs than the Consumer Product Safety Commission spends to ensure the safety of products as diverse as toys, tools and televisions used every day by millions of Americans.

    At least the cows, chickens, and pigs are safer. The budget for monitoring their food is 30x the budget for monitoring more or less everything in my house.

  22. Jiminy Christmas says:

    @QuantumRiff: They want you to watch the monkey, but don’t be distracted.

    $62 million sounds like a lot of money, doesn’t it? The Pentagon burns through that in Iraq about every three days.

  23. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    Caption contest: “Two CPSC staffers take a moment of silent prayer in memory of Timmy the Train.”

  24. NickRB says:

    You know it’s hard to blame the government for cutting funding to this. Every-time you turn around there’s another group of people claiming they are victims and they NEED the government to come help them. If we properly funded all of these causes you’d give practically all of your income to the government. What’s the best solution? Hire an outside agency to do it. When you cut away all the beuracracy they’ll get the job done better and cheaper than the government.

  25. lore says:

    Seriously? Talk about a picture being worth a thousand words!

  26. not_seth_brundle says:

    @jrford8: The FDA isn’t so much looking after the animals’ food as it is trying to look after your food (i.e., the animals themselves). See, e.g., Mad Cow Disease. I think this is about right, as I’d guess most people would rather have an eye gouged out by an unsafe stapler than their brains gouged out by an unsafe hamburger (not that either outcome is acceptable, mind you).

  27. dotorg greg says:

    @jrford8: Actually, with a run rate of $4 billion/month, the Pentagon spends two times that much each day.

  28. killavanilla says:

    Wow.
    Only $62 million?
    I smell governmental waste.
    How is it possible that only $62 million dollars isn’t enough?
    Am I missing something here? Testing for lead, swallowing hazards and defects cost more than that?
    I read the article and they issues a warning to parents that ATV’s are dangerous for kids under 16. That sure comes as a shock to me. I wonder how much they wasted on that study?
    Besides, this story is poorly representative of the facts and skews them drastically to turn it into some sort of condemnation of President Bush.
    Shocking, I know.
    If you look at the budget for the CPSC (which you can only see if you click on the graph), you would get a bigger picture of what is really going on. It looks to me like the budget wasn’t slashed by the ever evil bush at all – it’s been flat since 1985. As a matter of fact, the graph shows a slight increase in funding since 2000.
    Meanwhile, product recalls are up. So what does this story REALLY say?
    I’m not sure. But it seems that this looks like a partisan hit piece. It states in the graph that the CPSC was hit with major cutbacks during Reagan. It fails to mention that Clinton didn’t increase funding or staffing either and places the blame squarely on Bush’s shoulders.
    Am I missing something here?

  29. kjherron says:

    Caption contest: “Fire in the hole!”

  30. Kryndis says:

    @killavanilla: Either you don’t know how the government works or you’re purposely trying to find a supposed partisan slant. The bump in 2000 would have come from a budget passed while Clinton was still in office. Likewise, the minor decrease you point to around 2005 would have occurred due to a budget passed during Bush’s tenure. Therefore, it is fair to say that the budget has decreased under Bush.

    And for the record, no, $62 million really isn’t anywhere near enough to properly test over $600 BILLION worth of imported products every year. Again, please remember, they are tasked with testing all imported products (not covered by other agencies), not just toys.

  31. lawnmowerdeth says:

    “And for the record, no, $62 million really isn’t anywhere near enough to properly test over $600 BILLION worth of imported products every year.”

    And how do you know this is a fact? Just because “600 BILLION” is a big number?

    The typical bureaucratic argument of “We need more money.”
    “Why?”
    “Because.” Shouldn’t fly with everyone so easily.

  32. killavanilla says:

    @Kryndis:
    Sadly, I do know how government works. I work in technology sales. Ever wonder where that money goes? Ask my buddy who sells to the DOD. Every year, we hear about the $1500 USB cable. They need to spend the $1500 and don’t care what it gets spent on. If they don’t use it, they lose it.
    Yes, the small bump came in 2000. I am sure that had something to do with Clinton. What about the cutin 1996? Was that Bush as well?
    Look at the graphic – that budget is flat from 1985 until 2007. Which means that multiple administrations felt it was sufficient. Two names are mentioned in the article. Reagan and Bush. No mention of Clinton sticking to the budgetary numbers, just blame laying.
    You say that it is fair to say “the budget has decreased under Bush”, yet the facts don’t bear that out. Again, look at the graph. It is flat from 1985-2008. Please show me the budget cut, because I just don’t see it. Not at all.
    I’m ‘purposely’ trying to find a partisan slant? Did you read the article? Does it seem neutral to you? Because to me, it looks like they are laying this at Bush’s feet and saying it’s all his fault.
    And the $600 billion dollars of product is the cost of the products and really doesn’t speak to the number of products.
    But how much do they need? A billion? 10 billion? 100 billion? When is it enough?
    This is a hit piece that glorifies democrats and villifies Bush. Face it. That’s fine, but if you can’t see it then I wonder what you think a hit piece would look like….

  33. dotorg greg says:

    did this get linked from the Drudge Report or something? Did you even read the story? The point of the article is not the $62 million. or not just.

    The point is that the political appointees of the Bush administration are from the regulated companies, their law firms, or their lobbying firms, and they have actually argued to NOT increase the budget or add staff. They’ve been standing with their foot on the neck of the agency while the % of products imported from China quadrupled.

    Meanwhile, the Chinese manufacturers hear the US industry & Bush CPSC’s “voluntary industry standards” mantra as permission to ignore the standards, since they’re voluntary.

  34. Kryndis says:

    @lawnmowerdeth: The agency had a larger budget when we were importing less, they have a smaller one now that we import more. You can’t get more from less, it’s as simple as that.

    We are importing far more than we ever have before, yet the agency responsible for policing those imports is working with one of the smallest budgets it has ever had. It really doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why we’re seeing these results.

    The FDA has a budget many times that of the CPSC yet everyone admits that budget is insufficient for the FDA to properly screen imports. What makes you think the CPSC’s work is somehow a great deal cheaper to perform?

  35. dotorg greg says:

    As for the Clinton era CPSC, it’s probably not an accident that the problem the current appointees promised to solve was the dreaded “nanny state”. Clinton’s CPSC commissioner Ann Brown tried to be the Dr. Koop of safety by making every little announcement herself. It was a patronizing attempt to make the most of the pulpit because there was no way to increase actual regulatory activity or spending in the Republican-controlled congress.

  36. killavanilla says:

    @dotorg greg:
    Quick question:
    Who do you think is better qualified to run a regulatory body than people who worked in the industry?
    Just curious.
    Isn’t that what all the fuss over brownie was about? That he lacked industry experience?
    It seems to me that this argument is silly. The fed is run by a guy who has a history in the financial world. The Surgeon General was a doctor. So why shouldn’t the person in charge of the CPSC have relevant work experience?
    The idea behind voluntary standards is simple a quite clean, actually. It gives the people the opportunity to stop doing business with companies that put out crappy products instead of giving the people a regulatory body to blame.
    In other words, if Mattel puts out toys with lead paint because they shop the manufacturing to China, BLAME MATTEL. Stop doing business with them. The market should be speaking, not a governmental agency or nanny state.
    I think there should be SOME governmental regulation and oversight, but ultimately it is the manufacturers problem. Instead of trying to blame the Bush administration for manufacturing defects, poison, and dangerous toys, go after the manufacturer. Eventually, the manufacturers will raise their own standards and guarantee the safety of their products OR they will go out of business. Seems like a decent plan.

  37. nffcnnr says:

    There once was a man named Lester,
    Who was a timid toy tester.
    He ate so much lead,
    It warped his big head,
    Into the odd shape of a jester’s.

  38. killavanilla says:

    @Kryndis:
    When did the agency have more?
    Just curious.
    A pretty much flat budget from 1985 to present day.
    This is the problem with the new york times. Lots of wonderful conclusions – where is the actual data? Why didn’t they print the budget numbers pre-Bush?
    Why isn’t anyone asking these types of questions?

  39. Kryndis says:

    @killavanilla: I work for a defense contractor, I’m fully aware of where the money goes. However, the scenario you lay out is one that generally only holds true for agencies that receive more money than they need. That does not appear to be the case here. If they had more money than they needed, don’t you think they might hire a second toy tester or something? I mean, why not, after all? According to the graphs they’ve been cutting jobs. An agency that has money to toss around doesn’t do that.

    The graph is most definitely not flat. I see quite a few local maxima and minima appearing under all of the administrations covered. The most recent local maximum occurred under Clinton, the most recent minimum under Bush. Do they, perhaps unfairly, highlight a single budget cut simply because it is the most recent? Maybe so. Welcome to the world of news. It has nothing to do with partisanship. The budget hasn’t changed much under the last three presidents so they glossed over all but the most recent (including Bush Senior, you might note). It hasn’t changed much now either, but the most recent numbers are the only ones anyone cares about, whether they’ve changed much or not.

    As for the cost of the products versus the number of products, you’re correct. However, judging by my last trip to Walmart, I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume quite a few of the imports aren’t terribly expensive.

  40. Kryndis says:

    @killavanilla: Ok, now you’re just being strange. You ask when the agency had more, then you point out it had more before 1985. What?

  41. killavanilla says:

    @Kryndis:
    I am almost always being strange.
    So start there.
    The point was to make you take a look at the article for hard numbers. You were most likely hard pressed to find any.
    Hence, my point was made. The agency had more money (in inflation adjusted dollars, btw) before 1985. Since then, it has remained practically flat.
    The reality is that in non-inflation adjusted dollars, it wouldn’t surprise me if the actual graph showed an steady increase in funding since its inception, which is not good fodder for a partisan article.
    The point of all that is this: this is supposed to be a news story, not an opinion piece. However, much like an opinion piece and unlike a news story, actual figures aren’t used. That way, no one can challenge the assertions made within.
    Hence, the flaw I was illustrating.
    Does that help you understand what I was trying to get across?
    For instance, in 1985 the same dollars would work out to a $32 million dollar budget using 1985 dollars (according to flawed estimates). Hence, the budget in non-inflation adjusted dollars has increased.

  42. killavanilla says:

    @Kryndis:
    Of course I am speculating at this point, but it seems to me that they likely spent millions of dollars determining that adult sized ATV’s are unsafe for children under 16……
    The point of which is that while I agree that more money might be neccessary, I would wager that a close inspection of their books would return loads of studies that were uneccessary and costly.
    What do the testers earn? What about the administration? Is it typically governmental in that they are top heavy?
    All I have been trying to say is that this article is slanted. It isn’t balanced. It doesn’t provide the data or a reasonable explanation of the data. What does the actual information bear out? We will never know because the NYT chose to write this with a typically biased style.

  43. Kryndis says:

    @killavanilla: You want the article to be less informative by not taking inflation into account? Cut out your partisan charge for just a second and surely even you will admit that an article about a longterm budget that ignores inflation would be even more worthless than the one you’re currently arguing against.

    As for wasteful spending, you might be right. In fact, I’d be shocked if there wasn’t some wasteful spending at the CPSC, just like everywhere else, private industry and public bureaucracy alike. But on the face of it, if you’re going to wage a crusade against spending, it hardly seems the CPSC is the logical place to start. Perhaps the DoD might feel like giving back that pricey USB cable so the money can go to something a bit more worthwhile.

  44. Chicago7 says:

    $62 million? They don’t even LOOK at $62 million at GAO. Their budget probably goes up and down based on across the board percentage cuts, the “Everyone has to cut 5% this year” type of deal you get once in awhile.

  45. killavanilla says:

    @Kryndis:
    I fail to see how reporting actual budget numbers could be less informative than reporting fake, inflation adjusted dollars.
    Maybe I’m old fashioned, but if we are to examine budgeting over a period of, say, 100 years, it doesn’t do any good to look at inflation adjusted anything. Why? Well, in inflation adjusted numbers (which are almost always dead wrong), EVERY number looks bad.
    I’ll prove it to you.
    The national defense budget in 1985 was roughly $258 billion. Inflation adjusted, that works out to a defense budget of approximately $501 billion.
    The 2007 defense budget was approximately $583 billion dollars, an increase of adjusted for inflation dollars of roughly 14%. With this in mind, an increase of that size seems hardly reasonable considering that we are at war and in Iraq with a huge number of forces.
    Even worse, let’s examine the budget from 1945 (well into WW2), just for kicks….
    The war budget of 1945 was $83 billion.
    Adjusted for inflation, that ‘wasteful’ spending works out to just over $1 trillion. But they didn’t spend $1 trillion. They spent $83 billion.
    Which illustrates just how silly adjusting for inflation is and how misleading it can be.
    It only factors in inflation and time, not costs.
    It is inaccurate. If the budget for the CPSC shows growth without inflation adjustments, then I think that is important to note. But it doesn’t make for such a damning article, which is why it was likely left out.

  46. killavanilla says:

    @Kryndis:
    As for the DOD not using the $1500 on the usb cable?
    They would lose that funding the following year. Then the NYT would write an article about how the Bush administration cut funding for the DOD.
    See how that works? It’s a catch 22….
    :-)

  47. overbysara says:

    seriously I would do it for FREE. WHERE DO I START?

    also, can’t get by with a $62 million budget? what the hell are these people doing?

  48. Buran says:

    @NickRB: But not have the government’s power to make binding federal laws/regulations. The government needs to be fining violators heavily and using the fines to fund the CPSC.

  49. dotorg greg says:

    1: Killa, you are wilfully misrepresenting the facts about the CPSC in regard to the ATV safety issue. They don’t conduct scientific studies crashing ATV’s into walls. They track and investigate thousands of reports of injuries and deaths, and feebly negotiate with the manufacturers to see what, if any, data THEY’VE received. Meanwhile, the ATV industry keeps on selling rigs for 6yo’s while lobbying and stonewalling any meaningful findings.

    2: the CPSC actually has requirements for who is qualified to test and regulate, and it’s NOT “someone from the industry,” but someone with a demonstrated track record in consumer safety.

    Bush & co get full credit/blame for installing appointees who are ideologically opposed to a governmental role in setting, inspecting, and enforcing safety standards, yes. And they get particular blame for hamstringing the agency by NOT appointing commissioners as required by law, thereby preventing the CPSC from taking any significant action at all. So hide behind canards about the nanny state if you want, but this administration has been actively obstructing the CPSC’s work by design and strategy.

    Voluntary standards are being proved before our eyes to not work, and not just because consumers don’t have a realistic option not to deal with Lucky Toy Paint Factory No.9 in Shenzhen if their products turn out to be toxic. Voluntary reporting obscures the real product risks consumers face, because companies are regularly discovered hiding injury data or systematically reclassifying it as user error.

  50. Kryndis says:

    @killavanilla: Your way is no less misleading than accounting for inflation. Your way, the numbers increase without showing that the spending power of those higher numbers decreased. How is that better or more factually correct?

    But anyway, I think at this point we’ll have to agree to disagree. Both ways have their pros and cons, we each just seem to weight them differently.

  51. Charles Duffy says:

    @killavanilla: Huh? Let’s go back to that 1945 war budget.

    Now, presuming your numbers are right, the 83 billion 1945 dollars had the same amount of spending power as 1 trillion 2007 dollars. Sure, the number of “dollars” may be different — but if 83 billion 1945 dollars buys the same number of ounces of gold (or hours of labor, or meals on the table, or what-have-you) as 1 trillian 2007 dollars, those two amounts are obviously the same bloody thing, and distinguishing them simply misleads.

    (In short, I think Kryndis is very much at fault for backing down; failing to account for currency fluctuation in trying to compare spending is simply wrong — every bit as much so as saying that the average resident of Zimbabwe is far better off than the average American, because the average Zimbabwean makes over ZWD 70,000,000 per year while the median American household has a net worth of about USD 100,000 and annual income far below that; the numbers just don’t mean the same thing, and so attempts to compare them without appropriate conversion simply aren’t meaningful).

  52. Xkeeper says:

    Unrelated comment:

    Caption Contest: This train wreck describes this agency perfectly. :(

  53. vladthepaler says:

    Why does one person in a small office need a $62 million budget? Sounds like there’s a tremendous amount of waste going on if all the people are getting for all those tax dollars is one toy-tester.

  54. Ben Popken says:

    @vladthepaler: The CPSC employs 431 other employees besides this gentleman.

  55. killavanilla says:

    @Charles Duffy:
    I think you are missing the point.
    The article is misleading in that it forces the reader to accept their figures as true and accurate, even though we don’t know how they arrived at them.
    Hence, it would be much more truthful if they were to give the ACTUAL dollars and not just a mish-mosh figure based on inflation dollars.
    I understand that what I am asking for is truthful and journalistic, which isn’t something the NYT is particularly interested.
    By only providing their calculated inflation dollar amounts and completely omitting the actual dollar amounts, it makes Bush look like spending is down even though in all likelihood, the amounts have varied.
    Simply put:
    If I hire you today at a salary of $60,000 per year and hire a similar person 20 years from now at $100,000, it’s pretty clear that I’m paying more dollars for the same worker. Sure, that $100k may be equal to the $60k after inflationary calculations are made, but without that information, it seems the story sounds much different. Using the NYT as a style guide, the headline would read “Workers paid the same amount as 20 years ago” and would include references to the salaries being the same, when adjusted for inflation.
    The truth is, I would be paying $40k more per year. The insinuation is there, which is why it becomes problematic for me.
    Are they underfunded? Perhaps. but in terms of transparent and truthful reporting, we aren’t given the opportunity to verify anything because no hard data is included in the article. So are we to trust the NYT inflation calculator?
    Maybe it’s a minor thing to you. Maybe its a minor thing period.
    To me, it sends a red flag.

  56. Charles Duffy says:

    @killavanilla:This isn’t about politics, it’s about math — more specifically, about doing proper unit conversion when trying to compare values of unlike types.

    The truth is, I would be paying $40k more per year. The insinuation is there, which is why it becomes problematic for me.

    Yes, but what does “$40K more per year” mean?

    Would you let me pay you $100K ZWD instead of $60K USD because it’s “$40K more”? If not, how can you with a straight face say that USD_2007 $60K is actually “$40K” less than USD_2027 $100K? For all intents and purposes they’re completely different currencies!

    Answer me one of these questions (assuming $60K USD_2007 is equivalent to $100K USD_2027 after adjusting for inflation), and I might appreciate the distinction you’re trying to make a little better:

    – That “$40K” difference: Is it $40K USD_2007, or $40K USD_2027?
    – How many ounces of gold will the difference between $60K USD_2007 and $100K USD_2027 buy?

    If you can’t truthfully answer either of those questions in a way which establishes that there is a difference in absolute value (aka. purchasing power) between $60K USD_2007 and $100K USD_2027, how is it not deceptive to paint them as being different numbers?

    So are we to trust the NYT inflation calculator?

    There’s a canonical source for data on inflation: The Consumer Price Index, as published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You’re not trusting the New York Times to pull numbers out of their ass; you’re trusting the New York Times to use the same numbers from the same canonical source everyone else does. That’s pretty well-placed trust, since they would get pretty much thoroughly reamed if they were discovered to be doing anything else.