Business/Finance

Kansas rep, a friend of industry, axes product-safety database

A neophyte freshman representative from Kansas who slipped into Congress on the strength of hundreds of thousands of dollars of donations from heavyweight industries does not want you and me to see a product-safety database compiled by a federal consumer agency.

In 2008, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. Among its mandates: Consumers will have access to a public database to report and learn about hazards posed by unsafe products. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has compiled that database, and it’s ready to launch next week.

But Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) doesn’t want consumers to see it. He does not want them to see “reports of defective products from a wide range of sources, including consumers, health-care providers, death certificates and media accounts,” reports Lyndsey Layton of The Washington Post. He does not want consumers to change how they make purchasing decisions. He does not want them to see a database that is “limited to complaints about safety and does not deal with product reliability or performance,” reports Layton.

Pompeo wants to cut government spending. He and his cronies attached an amendment to a House spending bill passed Feb. 19 to deep-six the database. Writing in The Wichita Eagle Feb. 20, he said: “We can grow our economy by reining in runaway government spending.”

This database cost the product safety commission only $3 million to compile. That money’s been spent. So why pull the plug, Mike?

Interestingly, for a guy who wrote that “the long-term benefits of breaking our spending addiction greatly outweigh the tough choices we’ll encounter in the short term,” he’s giddily happy about spending $35 billion, let alone $3 million. That’s the size of the contract the Air Force awarded Boeing to build 179 next-generation aerial refueling tankers. Perhaps that’s because Boeing estimates that 7,500 jobs will be created in Wichita, which Pompeo represents, and where the final tanker assembly will be done.

Said Pompeo: “It is time to start building refueling tankers in Kansas for our nation’s security.” Apparently, a database that provides consumer security is beyond his comprehension.

Pompeo was a businessman. He started Thayer Aerospace, says AlterNet, on money from Koch Industries. After he sold Thayer, he became president of Sentry International, a business specializing in the manufacture and sale of equipment used in oilfields (see below how much money oil folks gave him). Sentry is affiliated with Koch Industries through a subsidiary, according to Lee Fang’s AlterNet post. Other Koch ties are evident, writes Fang.

Pompeo’s dalliance with the tea party belies the generous corporate support given him in his campaign for Congress. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, here are the top donors to Pompeo by industry for the 2010 election cycle:

Oil & Gas $190,450
Retired $133,292
Real Estate $79,800
Lawyers/Law Firms $78,215
Health Professionals $69,570
General Contractors $61,550
Commercial Banks $56,175
Misc Finance $54,950
Leadership PACs $52,515
Securities & Investment $43,050
Insurance $42,618
Air Transport $38,530
Accountants $30,450
Agricultural Services/Products $30,350
Food & Beverage $29,550
Business Services $26,346
Home Builders $21,700
Automotive $19,650
Building Materials & Equipment $18,400
Misc Manufacturing & Distributing $17,250

Pompeo’s objection to the product safety database is based on his presumptive fiction: The database would be filled with errors, and it would add costs to American manufacturers, thus driving jobs overseas.

But commission Chairman Inez Tenenbaum told Congress that in a February test of the database, 900 complaints were logged with only four found to be inaccurate. The database allows manufacturers to respond, she said.

The ability to present both sides — the person alleging harm and the manufacturer — is unique, says Tenenbaum. “We’re the only federal database that allows manufacturers to post their comments,” she said in an interview.

Pompeo, who is a member of Congress because serious corporate money put him there, reflects the minds behind that money: Impose no new regulation on American business. Reduce it, in fact. The Republican House has a kill-regulation agenda hidden behind its deficit-reduction frontispiece.

A database showing products that are unsafe would likely turn consumers away from such products. Presumably that would require manufacturers to build better, higher-quality products. Pompeo & Co. want none of that. That smacks of regulation and big government. That eats profits.

Would safe products cost more? Sure — but Walmart’s massive buying power would thwart much of that.

Meanwhile, the product safety database sits idle, unused by its intended audience — you and me.

From Pompeo’s Eagle op-ed:

Whatever difficulties we will encounter on this new course, I believe it is the only one capable of fulfilling a deeper human responsibility — to live within our means, to grow our economy and leave behind for our children a better life than the one our parents left for us. [emphasis added]

A deeper human responsibility should include allowing consumers to see which products are safe and which are not. That better life should allow those children’s parents the opportunity to check a product safety database then buy from manufacturers. For Pompeo, such a responsibility to his constituents is just too pricey.

As President Reagan said, “Trust … but verify.” That’s all the product safety database will do.

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