As you know by now, I have a simple formula that describes, if not explains, Trump’s war on good government. For a given agency X, appoint someone AntiX who will damage and/or destroy X. Like appointing a guy who cannot manage money to the Fed Board - you know - the bunch of folks who run our central banking system. What could go wrong?
Here’s another example. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is now run by a demonstrably AntiXer backed by a 3 to 2 Republican advantage on the commission. Here’s the case study: After hundreds of crashes, this Britax jogging stroller faced recall. Then Trump appointees stepped in reported by Todd C. Frankel at the Washington Post.
The crashes were brutal. With no warning, the front wheel on the three-wheeled BOB jogging strollers fell off, causing the carriages to careen and even flip over. Adults shattered bones. They tore ligaments. Children smashed their teeth. They gashed their faces. One child bled from his ear canal.
Staff members at the Consumer Product Safety Commission collected 200 consumer-submitted reports from 2012 to 2018 of spontaneous failure of the stroller wheel, which is secured to a front fork by a quick-release lever, like on a bicycle. Nearly 100 adults and children were injured, according to the commission. The agency’s staff members investigated for months before deciding in 2017 that one of the most popular jogging strollers on the market was unsafe and needed to be recalled.
“The danger that was there was just so obvious,” said Marietta Robinson, a former Democratic commissioner who was still at the agency when the injury reports surfaced. “It was appalling.”
But BOB’s maker, Britax Child Safety, refused the agency’s request in 2017 for a voluntary recall of nearly 500,000 strollers. The company said the strollers were safe when used as instructed and met industry standards for safety.
The agency didn’t back down. It sued to force a recall in February 2018. Britax kept fighting. That was unusual. Companies normally want to avoid public clashes with safety regulators, according to past and current agency staff members.
But the leadership of the safety agency was about to change.
The stroller was a gift from her mom.
The BOB — as its fans call it — seemed like a perfect choice for Tess Sawyer, an avid runner and a first-time mom living outside Cleveland.
Her BOB Revolution could really move on its three air-filled tires. It looked rugged, like a stroller SUV. Marketing materials showed it being pushed along dirt trails and park paths. Baby stores and outdoor shops such as REI sold the $400-to-$600 stroller.
In September 2016, Sawyer said, she went for a run with her daughter strapped into her BOB. She was sprinting down the sidewalk with the stroller and “all of the sudden the wheel falls off,” Sawyer, now 26, recalled. “No indication. No red flag.”
The front of the stroller dipped forward. The back wheels lifted off the ground. Sawyer struggled for control. She wasn’t hurt. Her daughter, not yet a year old, was rattled but fine.
“It freaked me out,” Sawyer said.
When she returned home, Sawyer contacted Britax. The company sent her a new front wheel, Sawyer said, same as the first one. But that was it.
“They gave us no reason to believe that something was wrong with the stroller,” Sawyer said. “It was like it was just a crazy accident.”
Britax produced a largely ineffective information campaign and revised the front-wheel design.
But the front-wheel accidents kept happening — and, according to the agency’s later lawsuit, the company failed to disclose many of these incidents to regulators. This prevented the agency from learning early on about the scale of the problem, according to two people familiar with the agency’s thinking.
[And] that left nearly 500,000 BOBs with the original design.
And they were continuing to cause problems.
As recently as October, a father reported to the agency’s consumer complaint database that his BOB double-seat stroller lost its wheel while he was jogging, causing his two children to fall face first to the ground as he flipped over the stroller and landed on top of them.
So what stopped the Commission from calling Britax to account? Not for a lack of trying …
Staff members tried for months to get Britax to agree to a voluntary recall. But the company declined. Months passed with no action, with Britax insisting the steps it had taken to inform consumers about the quick release were adequate to ensure the strollers were safe.
“The case was not moving and hit a roadblock,” one senior agency official said.
So the Commission ratcheted up the pressure.
Ordinarily, at this point, staff members might seek to pressure a reluctant company into agreeing to a voluntary recall, but Buerkle refused to allow staff members to do this, according to the eight officials who spoke to The Post.
The agency’s lawsuit filed in administrative court said that “children and adults were injured because the defective design of the Strollers allowed the front wheel to detach suddenly while the Stroller was in use.”
The agency wanted the defective strollers to be repaired or replaced at Britax’s cost and for the company to launch a campaign to warn the public about the stroller’s dangers. This is how recalls are typically handled.
Whoa! Who is this Buerkle person?
The most powerful position at the Consumer Product Safety Commission is the agency’s chair. The chair — filled by presidential appointment and confirmed by the Senate — heads the agency’s five-person commission, in which the president’s political party often holds a voting majority.
Trump’s election meant the commission would swing to the Republicans for the first time in more than a decade.
Ann Marie Buerkle, a Republican, was named acting chairwoman in February 2017. Trump has nominated her to take on the role permanently.
Buerkle, who has served on the commission since 2013, was the only commissioner to oppose proposed portable-generator rules aimed at reducing carbon monoxide poisoning in 2016. She was again the lone vote that year against a then-record $15.45 million penalty for a company accused of making humidifiers prone to catching fire.
Buerkle declined to be interviewed by The Post.
In Buerkle’s first two years as chairwoman, the number of companies fined for misconduct declined to five in 2017–2018 from 12 in 2015–2016. Public voluntary recalls fell about 13 percent during the same period, resulting in approximately 80 fewer recalls, according to agency data. Last year, the number of public recalls fell to its lowest level in a decade, consumer advocates say.
The last vacancy on the commission was filled in September by Republican Peter Feldman, a former Senate staffer.
Two months later, just two days before Thanksgiving, Britax and the agency announced an end to the recall lawsuit with a settlement , which required the company to run a public-safety campaign and offer replacement parts or discounts on new strollers to some users in what was clearly not a traditional safety recall. The commission voted 3 to 2 along party lines to accept it.
So Britax basically was off the hook.
[Democratic commissioner Elliot] Kaye worried more companies would want to avoid recalls with information campaigns. Already he detected companies were taking a harder line with the safety agency, and staff members were having a harder time getting their calls returned.
And about that Ohio mom?
Sawyer, the mother in Ohio, didn’t know about the BOB’s quick-release problems until a Post reporter contacted her in February.
She didn’t know about Britax’s information campaign.
She didn’t know about the potential fixes being offered.
Now, she’s afraid to use her BOB. She doesn’t want to take it out for a run. She doesn’t want to put her daughter in it, and she can’t imagine selling the stroller to someone.
Britax won its fight against a recall, she said.
But it lost something, too.
“The trust,” she said, “is gone.”
It’s more profound than one company losing consumers’ trust in one product. This outcome shakes our trust in the ability of the government to function in our best interests, to promote our general welfare.