The Business of Government Hour

 

About the show

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The executives discuss their careers and the management challenges facing their organizations. Past government executives include Administrators, Chief Financial Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Operating Officers, Commissioners, Controllers, Directors, and Undersecretaries.

The interviews

Join the IBM Center for a weekly conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business.

Ann Brown interview

Friday, April 6th, 2001 - 20:00
Phrase: 
Ann Brown
Radio show date: 
Sat, 04/07/2001
Guest: 
Intro text: 
Missions and Programs...

Missions and Programs

Complete transcript: 

Thursday, March 29, 2001

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and the co-chair of The Endowment for The Business of Government. We created the endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. Find out more about the endowment by visiting us on the web at endowment@pwcglobal.com.

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our conversation today is with Ann Brown, chairman, U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.

Welcome, Ann.

Ms. Brown: Thank you. It's delightful to be here.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, let's start by finding out more about the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Could you describe the activities for our listeners?

Ms. Brown: Well, the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission is the federal agency that oversees the safety of 15,000 different kinds of consumer products used in and around the home. Everything from toasters to toys is under our jurisdiction.

When you get up in the morning, and you take a shower in your non-skid tub, until you go to bed under your electric blanket, we are taking care to make sure that families, and especially children, are safe.

Now, we have many tools that we can do that with. We can do mandatory and voluntary standards, or recalls, or civil penalties, education, publicity. And we have a very, very active hotline. We received over 4,000 complaints on our hotline and about 3,800 complaints over our website just last year.

So, one of the most important things that we have to do at the agency is to be in constant touch with our customers. And those are American consumers.

Mr. Lawrence: Let's find out something about your career. How did you start?

Ms. Brown: Well, let me tell you that right now I have what I call my dream job. I certainly was an outside critic of this agency for many years. I felt it was all burn, and no beef. I didn't think it really did what it needed to do to protect consumers.

I was a Washingtonian. I grew up here in Washington. And after I went away to Smith College, and then came back and graduated from George Washington my last year because I married my husband who I've now been married to for forty-two years, which is actually my greatest achievement.

I started working for a newspaper here in Washington. Then I went off to have my kids. And then I went back into politics. But I started a grassroots consumer organization. And we did many, many things, consumer advocacy kinds of issues. But one of the things we did was the safety and quality of toys and children's products.

And so I got to be a children's product expert and a safety advocate. And I started all those toy safety surveys that you saw in the 1980s. And when I got interested in the safety of toys and children's products, I got interested in the Consumer Products Safety Commission.

And I knew the President and Mrs. Clinton from being active in national politics, as well. And when Mr. Clinton became President, the President asked me, 'would I like to head up the Consumer Products Safety Commission?' And I said, "You bet I would."

Mr. Lawrence: What got you interested in consumer issues way back then?

Ms. Brown: Well, quite honestly, it was something I didn't have to go back to get an advanced degree for, if I tell you the truth. I had had enough of school. I wanted to be out in the world.

And I also knew that the people of Washington, D.C., by only having a local government, and not a federal government, really weren't represented on consumer issues. My father had been a merchant in downtown Washington. And I was a latchkey kid. I went to school and took two buses downtown and sat in the back sitting rooms of his store and watched the buying and selling mechanism.

And then I would walk on F Street and see people buying and selling. I got very interested in the process of buying and selling and equity for consumers.

And I also always had a good appreciation of the problems of the businessman. For, after all, my father was a small businessman.

Mr. Lawrence: You've had a lot of experiences in the different sectors. In the public sector, the private sector, perhaps your father, in the non-profit. Could you describe your perceptions of the different cultures?

Ms. Brown: Well, certainly government is very different. If you're in government, you basically have to be more careful about what you say and do because you wield more power. And so, you can't just mouth off anytime you think about it.

And you also have to be careful, because you can affect businesses in a very important way. So, you never want to do anything in government that isn't absolutely, firmly believable and well documented. That's a very important thing.

I think the similarities between the public and private sector are that I'm a very mission oriented person. At this agency, I have a great mission. I had a great mission when I worked out in the field as a consumer advocate and as a children's safety advocate. Mission defines me, and motivates me. And I think that's exactly the same thing as when you're in government.

Of course, when you're in government, you do have more power, and you have to use it judiciously.

Mr. Lawrence: How do you measure the success of your mission in government?

Ms. Brown: Well, one way that we do it is actually by seeing what has happened in numbers of deaths and injuries. I love it when people used to tell me at the agency, they gave out a million pamphlets. Well, you can give out a million pamphlets. How do you define whether people have taken those pamphlets, read the information, and whether they have absorbed it? And whether they act on it?

We can really tell one thing is by the reductions of deaths and injuries. And since this agency came into being, they have reduced injuries a third, and reduced deaths a third. We announced this year, for example, that we have seen a 20 percent reduction in injuries to children from children's products. The first time the agency has ever seen such a reduction. So, one of the ways we know we're successful is if we see a reduction in deaths and injuries. That's a result. And I'm a very result-oriented person.

We can also see results by the kind of connection we have with consumers. And we have seen consumers learning about our agency, knowing about us, contacting us. It's been a tremendous give-and-take.

Mr. Lawrence: What drew you to public service?

Ms. Brown: Well, I say what every other politician says in the world, but it's true. The ability to make a difference in people's lives. I'll tell you what didn't draw me to public service, and that was the money. But certainly, I was drawn by the possibility of making a difference. And I must say, I've been enormously gratified by that.

Mr. Lawrence: And what position or training best prepared you to be the leader of this organization?

Ms. Brown: Quite honestly, all my past life experiences have built up to taking this job. I mean, I joke that when I was a captain at camp, I learned leadership. And when I worked with my consumer group, I learned how to work with volunteers, and how to motivate people.

When I worked for a newspaper, I learned a lot about how you make an issue palatable, how you get attention from the public, how to use the press.

Certainly, as an advocate, I became enamored of a mission. And I was able to carry over that mission to the agency.

So, I think that specifically, my sense of mission, my knowledge of product safety, and press training, and media training, were my major attributes that qualify me for this job.

Mr. Lawrence: In your years of government service, what qualities have you observed as a key for good leaders?

Ms. Brown: Well, good leadership I think is ageless. We see the leadership qualities from over the ages -- from the 12th century, the 21st century -- it doesn't really matter.

I think of vision. I keep coming back with that. Commitment to a vision. Passion. Energy. Charisma. Teamwork. Flexibility. And responsiveness to change.

The worst thing anybody can say to me at the agency is when I say, why are we doing it this way? And they say, because we always have. That's death, as far as I'm concerned. So, the liveliness, the inquisitiveness. The ever being responsive to what needs to be changed I think is very important.

Mr. Lawrence: Do you think those characteristics will change for the future leaders?

Ms. Brown: I don't think so. I think those are basic characteristics, personality aspects, that will always be the same. I think they were before. And I think they will be in the future.

Mr. Lawrence: I'm talking with Ann Brown. This is The Business of Government Hour. We will re-join out conversation in just a few minutes.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. And our conversation today is with Ann Brown, chairman, U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.

Ann, given the limited resources, how does CPSC select products or industries for review?

Ms. Brown: Well, first of all, we are a data-driven agency. And we have built an extensive system for gathering information about dangerous and defective products. And we use that system to tell us where to focus our investigations.

We do spend a great deal of time looking at the safety of children's products. And about 40 percent of our budget goes to children's products because children are our most vulnerable, and one of our most precious, populations.

We gather information extensively from all around the country, from a myriad of sources. We have a wonderful system, called the NICE system, which gives us hospital emergency room injuries, product injuries, from all over the country every day. And so it's critical that we know what's happening. We work closely with coroners, so we unfortunately can hear about all the deaths.

Furthermore, we have eighty investigators around the country who follow up on any incident or complaint. In fact, I say, we're the only agency that still makes house calls.

And of course, information from consumers is critical to us. We don't wait for injuries to pile up. I have a data meeting every month, where my people take and mine the data, trying to cut it different ways, so we can see what we have in that data, and we can anticipate deaths and injuries. That's extremely important.

But even one complaint from a consumer can lead to a product recall. Of course, we investigate it seriously. Somebody just doesn't call us. It could be a kook, you know? Somebody just doesn't call us on the phone, and we recall something. We do a serious investigation. We have our own laboratories. But even one, one complaint can trigger a recall.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, we know that you have a special investigative unit to investigate defective consumer products. Could you tell us about that, and what they do?

Ms. Brown: I guess you're talking about Operation SOS. That's how we find, on-line, we find dangerous products. We started this special project, called Operation SOS. It stands for Safe On-line Shopping. And that's to find dangerous products before they are sold on the Internet.

And our investigators go undercover. They use secure computers. They use credit cards that can't be traced back to the government and anonymous P.O. boxes. They can find products for us that are being sold that are dangerous.

We have done some recalls from this, because products that are sold on-line have to have the same safety standards as those products that are sold in the bricks and mortar stores.

Mr. Lawrence: In 1998, the CPSC Fast Track Product Recall program was a winner of the Harvard University Innovation in American Government award program. Could you tell us about the Fast Track program?

Ms. Brown: Well, Fast Track is a marvelous program, and it came from staff in the Commission. It was not a "filtered down" program. We very much get our information and our ideas from our staff, who is right at the front lines, doing the work.

This was a great award. It even came with $100,000 from the Ford Foundation, who did it with Harvard. Fast Track is an innovation that gets products recalled faster. It encourages companies to come to us immediately when they learn of a product hazard. It cuts through the red tape, and speeds up that record process. With Fast Track, we can recall a product within twenty days or less, instead of going through a whole extensive investigation.

And you see, time is of the essence with a product that is out there that's dangerous. Because you absolutely need to get that off of store shelves, out of peoples' homes, before people get injured or possibly killed.

Mr. Lawrence: What does CPSC do once a product has been recalled?

Ms. Brown: Well, after a product has been recalled, we will keep track of what percentage of the recalled products gets returned. And we will see that if we don't think it's enough, we will encourage the company, or work with the company to issue another recall.

We make sure that we get around to as many people as possible. We have made major, major public relations efforts on recalls. We not only do the morning shows, more often than I can imagine, nightly news, also, of course, newspapers.

We've instituted something called a video news release that we do at the agency. When I got to that agency, quite honestly, they had one fax line in public affairs. The way they got their information out was what I call the paper airplane approach. You make a little -- take a press release and make a paper airplane of it. And float it through the outside window, and hope it hits somebody on the head below.

We do all these major efforts to get our information about recalls out. The video news release is something that goes out by satellite to local news shows, all around the country. And we traditionally hit about 60 million people, viewers, at a time, seeing this.

So you can see, getting our information out is crucial to us.

Mr. Lawrence: We know that CPSC has improved customer service through the hotline. Could you tell us about the hotline, and the recent improvements?

Ms. Brown: Well, our hotline has been improved immeasurably. We have added a number of consumer service reps and our hotline handles about 300,000 calls a year. It is answered by the voice of James Earl Jones, who comes to work free of charge every day.

And we have bilingual English-Spanish speaking operators, of course. And we can also handle inquiries in sixteen languages, through a language bank of our employees. So, our hotline has been a major connection with us, and our customers, the consumers.

But our website also is creeping up on our hotline as being something that's very valuable as a communications tool. Our website handled 3.7 million visitors last year. And in the year 2000, we had about 250,000 website visits a month, compared with 10,000 a month in 1996. Our website has become a wonderful interactive way of consumers both contacting us, and getting our recall information.

Mr. Lawrence: What's the Product Safety Circle?

Ms. Brown: Well, I can tell you a lot about this. The Product Safety Circle is a way to help companies make safer products. We often deal with companies only after they've had to recall something.

What we're trying to do is institute safety, and to praise companies, rather than to hit them over the head with a shovel. What we're trying to do is institute safety within their common work practices, as part of their business practices, so that we can head off problems before a recall occurs.

And we have gotten more than forty companies now, almost fifty, and they have pledged to make safety an integral part of their business. To build safety into their products, so they don't have to have a recall. Save them money, and the embarrassment of a recall. And make the world safer for consumers.

Now, there are ten principles, such as, build safety into a product design. Or, do product safety testing for all foreseeable hazards. Or keep informed about and implement the latest developments in product safety. And this has been, this Product Safety Circle has been very, very good.

We're having a conference about it outside of Chicago in the end of June, where different companies will show all of their safety innovations. And we know this encourages other companies, as well.

Mr. Lawrence: Does CPSC build partnerships with important corporations in other ways?

Ms. Brown: Well that's been very, very important. When I first came to the CPSC, the business community thought I was going to want to regulate everything that moved, since I'd come from the advocacy community. Well, that is certainly not the case.

Partnerships with companies are extremely important. That's why most of our recalls are voluntary. Why we've done five to one voluntary, instead of mandatory regulations. Because with limited resources, and with time being of the essence, you don't want to end up in court at the end of the day.

So, we've worked very cooperatively with dozens of companies, on partnerships, as well, with a common interest in safety. For instance, we have the safety expertise, and they have the resources. Nice marriage.

So, for example, Gerber has had a six-year partnership with us on baby safety. We've worked with Amazon.com and eBay. They've linked with us to provide consumers warning about secondhand products. We've got a list as long as your arm of companies that we've worked well with.

Mr. Lawrence: It's time for a break. We'll be back in a few minutes with more of The Business of Government Hour, and our conversation with Ann Brown.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. And our conversation today is with Ann Brown, chairman, U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.

Does CPSC have any methods in place to reward excellence in product safety on the part of private companies?

Ms. Brown: Yes. We certainly do. Very early on, when I first got to the agency, I initiated something called "The Chairman's Commendation". And we've given twenty of them for special contributions for safety on the part of companies.

For example, Proctor and Gamble, who came out with the first senior-friendly child-resistant caps for children, so that children still can't get into the medicine, but it's easier for adults to open. You know? When you have a headache in the middle of the night, and you get a worse headache because you can't open the bottle.

But now, they're easier for adults to open, but still child-safe. But the nice thing is, Proctor and Gamble did this first, ahead of other companies.

That's what we're looking for: a company that does something ahead of when the government makes them do it, or ahead of their competitors. We gave another award to Toys-R-Us for their safety toy-testing program. That was so exemplary.

So, over the seven years we've given twenty of those awards. And they are highly coveted. And we like to encourage good behavior.

Mr. Lawrence: How does CPSC determine that regulation is the best solution for consumer safety issues?

Ms. Brown: Well, as I said, we like to work voluntarily with industry whenever we can. Most product safety standards are handled voluntarily by the industry. For every one mandatory we've done, we've done five voluntaries. And that, as I said, is the most efficient, cost-effective, and time saving way to work.

But when we find that a voluntary standard isn't working, then we can put a mandatory standard in place. For instance, bunk beds. There's a new mandatory standard that requires space in the bunk beds to be reduced, so children can get their bodies through, but their heads don't get caught, and we've reduced that.

But most of our recalls, as I said are, 99 percent of them are done voluntarily. We rarely have to go to court. And that is the way it works best.

Mr. Lawrence: How do you build partnerships with other government agencies, particularly those that regulate products and services?

Ms. Brown: Well, it's very important that government shouldn't be duplicative. It's not fair to consumers to spend the money if we're doing something, and another agency is doing it. We will prefer to work in partnership, so that you have the best use of your resources.

r we build partnerships with members of Congress. We've done baby safety showers with them, or home safety checks. That's another branch of government.

We have worked with EPA and HUD on lead paint in homes. And we've worked with Health and Human Services on child health and safety, on the problem of SIDS. So, we will very often work with another agency as often as we can. FDA, for instance, which will handle a device, when it is not a safety device but a health device, will give us the safety advice. They'll recommend something for us to look at.

So, we work in close cooperation.

Mr. Lawrence: What are the components of a successful inter-agency partnership?

Ms. Brown: Well, the first component is making sure that you're saving the taxpayer money, by working together. And not having a sense of turf, and wanting to do it yourself, no matter whether it's done by another agency, or not.

You have to trust the other agencies. They have to be efficient, and effective, and you have to work well with them. Those are the main things that you have to do, so that you're giving the taxpayer the bang for the buck.

Mr. Lawrence: The CPSC's involvement in, and the results of the preliminary review of gun safety locks was controversial. What lessons learned can you pass on to other leaders when faced with this level of controversy?

Ms. Brown: Well, the first thing you have to do when you pick up on something that controversial is, you have to research it to death. You have to have it absolutely right, and absolutely correct. Because you can tell if you have your ear to the ground, that this is controversial, but it's the right thing to do.

And you have to make sure that it's the right thing to do, and believe in it. And the best way to believe in it is to know that you have all your facts and data lined up perfectly; that you're not just making an emotional pitch.

Once you've got that all lined up, then hold the line, and do what is right. That's the main thing. If you know you're doing what is right, particularly with gun locks.

We tested thirty-two trigger locks, and cable locks from ten different manufacturers. These are the things that lock away from kids. And we found that in most cases, they simply didn't work. They could be opened without a key. You could open them with tweezers. You could open them with a paper clip. You could whack them on the desk, and they would open.

This gave a very false sense of security to gun owners, who were trying to do the best thing, and lock their guns away from others who shouldn't be having them.

You know, when you stop to think about it, controversy is not such a bad thing. It makes people think. It helps spread the word about a safety hazard such as a gunlock that doesn't do what it's supposed to do.

So many, many people find out about it. We were A-1 of The Post about our survey of gunlocks, and our going to do a standard about it. I mean, it's a tragedy when you think about it, that there are twelve regulations for every toy, but not one safety standard for a gunlock.

So, controversy can be a help in building up knowledge about a problem.

Mr. Lawrence: How has technology affected your ability to interact with consumers regarding recalls and other time-sensitive safety information?

Ms. Brown: Well, it has been an absolute blessing, and a boon to us. Consumers can get our safety information over the web. If they don't have a computer in their own house, they can go to the library.

We put all our recalls up on the web. And we can e-mail. You can get on our e-mail list, and have all the recalls e-mailed to you. We've used technology for the video news release, which is very important. Every TV station can pull down from satellite.

So, I think it's of crucial importance that you use all the high technology that you can. It helps the communication enormously.

Mr. Lawrence: What advice do you have for consumers who want to become more educated about product safety issues?

Ms. Brown: Well, the first thing is, to be aware of recalls. Be aware that they'll be on TV. They'll be on the morning shows. Look for them in your newspapers. Many newspapers have a column specifically devoted to our recalls.

Check our website often. Get on our e-mail notification list and then check your home. Check your day-care center. Check your caregiver's home. Make sure you don't have a recall product lurking in your attic, or your basement.

And also, be cautious about secondhand products, both in the secondhand stores, and in those garage sales. I always see people going to those garage sales to buy other people's junk. Well, you can do that if you want, but make sure it's not dangerous junk.

Mr. Lawrence: Do you have any advice, any special advice for new parents?

Ms. Brown: Well, the most important thing that new parents can do is to have a new crib. And even if you can't afford a new crib, when you have that baby shower, perhaps, get your friends and relatives to get together. And instead of giving you all those puffy blankets, and things that you may not use, and those little silver cups, see if you can get them to pitch in together so you can have a new crib because an old crib can be dangerous. It can be repaired wrong. It can be faulty. The screws can be loose. It cannot meet all the current standards. The slots can be too wide, and a kid can get their -- a little baby can get their head in it, and get strangled. But with a new crib, we know all the new cribs on the market meet our safety specifications.

So, and the other thing of course new parents should do is be aware of all our recalls of baby products.

Mr. Lawrence: I understand that CPSC recently issued its annual performance plan for 2001. Could you tell us about this plan?

Ms. Brown: Yes. Each year we issue a performance plan that guides our product safety work for the upcoming year. It outlines the agency's activities that will help speed progress toward our goals of reducing deaths and injuries from consumer products.

And we have several goals in that plan. One of them is to reduce the fire deaths in the United States by 10 percent in ten years. You know, children are particularly vulnerable when fires occur. Each year about 900 children under the age of fifteen die in fires. And about 600 of these deaths to children, fire deaths to children, are children under five. And we're on track to reach our goal.

Some of our other goals: head injury, reduce head injury to children by 10 percent in ten years, poisonings, reduce poisonings to children under five, carbon monoxide, reduce deaths by 20 percent in ten years, carbon monoxide poisoning, and electrocution reduce deaths by 20 percent, deaths and injuries. And we are on track with our goals. These motivate us. And we don't just use these percentages just to come up, pull them out of the air. These we take very seriously, and plan to meet.

Mr. Lawrence: It's time for a break. We'll be right back with more of The Business of Government Hour, and our conversation with Ann Brown.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. And today's conversation is with Ann Brown, chairman, U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.

One of the toughest challenges that employers are facing now is recruiting and retaining new employees. Does CPSC have this problem?

Ms. Brown: Well, luckily our life-saving mission is very motivating. And it helps us recruit and retain a highly skilled and dedicated group of employees at CPSC. The agency is just a wonderfully fulfilling and gratifying place to work, because people do keep their attention on this mission. We keep focused, as I say, all the time. If they don't keep focused, they often hear from me, our eyes on the part of reducing deaths and injuries from consumer products.

And so, by that mission orientation, we don't have quite the problem. In recent years, we did have some difficulty finding specialized technical staff to work at the agency. And what we did, this was sort of a clever -- I think we addressed this problem by hiring a number of well-respected senior scientists. And these scientists, in return, have helped us recruit lower level staff in their area of expertise. So, the word of mouth has been very, very helpful.

You know, the scope of retirement at CPSC is a problem, just as it is in other parts of the government. We face that, as well. And we are experiencing a higher number of retirements. Our turnover has increased from five percent in 1998 to 12 percent in 2000, largely due to retirements, but we're putting into place a suggestion of planning and aggressive recruitment offers, and efforts to deal with this rising number.

And sometimes it isn't all bad. Sometimes some tired folks leave, and some newly re-invigorated folks are hired. So we've found that in the turnover at our agency, our agency really looks like the face of America now.

Mr. Lawrence: What advice would you give to a young person who is interested in entering public service?

Ms. Brown: Well, first of all, I'd say, "just do it." It is enormously valuable, and it's fun. People really, even though they may not know it, depend on their government, particularly an agency like ours. They want their products safe. They want safety for their parents, for their children, for their grandparents.

In fact, when the government shutdown took place, one of the nightly news did a program on three important parts of government that weren't working. One was the National Parks. One was people getting their passports. And the third was our checking on the toys for Christmas, so the toys would be safe under the Christmas tree.

People want what we do. And the wonderful thing is, you can have fun doing it.

You know, I would suggest that public service is the most rewarding work. I can imagine, and I would advise young people to consider coming to work in the government, maybe coming to CPSC. We have a great mission.

Mr. Lawrence: What type of skills would you be looking for?

Ms. Brown: Well, first of all, what you need, you absolutely need a college degree. And then you, beyond that point, there's a whole range of skills and knowledge that places like CPSC need: scientists, mathematicians, lawyers, engineers, investigators, negotiators, communicators, writers.

So, you have a broad range of things that you can do.

Mr. Lawrence: You just mentioned that part of what CPSC does is very important. And yet, there is a move afoot to figure out what the government should be doing, and what it might have others do. What progress is CPSC making in reviewing positions for competition through the FAIR Act?

Ms. Brown: Well, the FAIR Act, in case people don't know, stands for the Federal Activities Inventory Reform Act. And it requires federal agencies to produce an inventory of positions that are commercial in nature, and could be contracted out. And also to make determinations about whether those contracting -- that works on a cost-benefit basis.

The majority of CPSC employees are engaged in governmental public safety occupations that is not appropriate for contracting out. However, we do contract out some of our administrative services, such as the mailroom, drivers, the laborers, copy room, library services. Our toll free hotline and some of our computer program positions are also staffed with contract employees.

And we've found contract employees to sort of get the same sense of mission that our other employees do. So, it's worked very well.

We've identified some positions in our inventory that we're going to review next year, to make sure that we are doing the best we can with the FAIR Act.

Mr. Lawrence: What's your vision for the next ten years of consumer safety and protection?

Ms. Brown: Well, I think if we talk about how CPSC will evolve, we're talking about technology. I think that is -- there's going to be more sophisticated technology in products. We see it all the time -- from toys, to washing machines -- everything is a higher technology. And new products keep coming out all the time.

So we need ever more sophisticated ways to check products for safety, to meet this higher level. For instance, we have just gotten new testing equipment that McDonalds gave us recently that they developed in conjunction with RAM. And it gives CPSC additional tools to assess safety hazards.

For instance, we got a breathing mannequin. This is a lifelike mannequin that helps evaluate suffocation hazards to children. We got a virtual child, which is a three-dimensional computerized model that simulates obstructions to a child's airways, and tests for choking. One of the common ways a child dies.

Also, we've got a simulated baby jaw. It tests to see if biting and tearing of a product presents a choking danger. That's the kind of way that the agency is going to keep up. Our vision for the future is to keep up technologically.

Mr. Lawrence: How about in terms of the employees? What type of employees will be needed in the future? It sounds like many of the things you have described are very technical in nature, so I was imagining more scientists, and more hard researchers, as you described them.

Ms. Brown: Well, we certainly need people who can work technology. And we do need just all of what you've said. But we also need people who are going to be able to analyze what children will do with a product, and when they do it. The human factors part of it is still very important. I don't want to make us sound like we'll be an agency of robots testing, because there's a lot more of judgment that comes to the fore, as well.

Mr. Lawrence: And how about in terms of any technological advances in the future helping CPSC communicate with consumers?

Ms. Brown: Well, of course, the web has changed the way we do business. And we will be using the web even more in the future. And we'll continue to use new communication tools as they come out.

You know, we started notifying the public by automatic e-mails, and doing video news releases. Our website is interactive. We can get complaints from the public via Internet.

As anything new is reported, we will continue doing it. Our website won an award as one of the three best websites in government from Brown University.

So we are developing that, and committed to that. And while I've been talking about our website and our hotline so much, let me give you those addresses. The website is www.cpsc.gov. And our hotline is 1-800-638-2772. So, write those down, and communicate with us. Everybody out there in the public works with us to keep all of our country safe.

Mr. Lawrence: I want to ask you another question. As you've been describing this, you've been describing two different roles. One of working with the private sector, and also one of watching over them. How do you balance those two different roles?

Ms. Brown: Very carefully. That is a tightrope that we have to walk. I think we've managed to do it successfully. We want to work voluntarily with industry. That is of crucial importance. But of course, the stick is always in the closet.

So, I think that industry doesn't want us to use the stick, and we don't want to use it. So industries work cooperatively with us. And that has been our most -- where we've had our most success.

You know, I think of product safety is a triangle. On one side is the industry. On one side is the government. And on one side is the consumer, because the consumer has a responsibility, too. If any one part of that triangle isn't working, the whole thing falls apart. That's the product safety triangle. And it works very well.

Would you like to mention the website and the hotline one more time?

Ms. Brown: Of course I would. Our website is www.cpsc.gov. Our hotline is 1-800-638-CPSC, or 2772.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you very much. This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Ann Brown, chairman, U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.

To learn more about the endowment, our research into improving government effectiveness, visit us on the Web at endowment@pwcglobal.com.

See you next week.

Ann Brown interview
04/07/2001
Ann Brown

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