Doing Business With the Consumer Product Safety Commission

General Info on the CPSC<@VM>The CIO file: Patrick Weddle

Things to note

The CPSC Web site has won awards for its public service; it gets my applause for the business information it features (www.cpsc.gov/businfo/businfo.html). It is quite detailed, and I got the feeling CPSC genuinely wants to work with businesses to make sure they know about and comply with any requirements they face. There is a link for "Contract and Procurement Information" (www.cpsc.gov/businfo/contract.html), although nothing is listed here right now. I thought the "Small Business Information" link (www.cpsc.gov/businfo/smbus.html) offered a lot of helpful tips to such businesses.

In 2002, the commission received almost 8 million hits on its Web site and 14,000 hotline calls. If you've never visited the Web site, it's worth a trip just as a consumer. The recalls alone are fascinating. (Did you know there was a recall of more than 45,000 fondue pots in March? And 700 handheld hair dryers in September?) And parents, all the recalls and warnings for toys, children's furniture, etc. that I saw makes this a must-bookmark Web site.

The 2004 Budget Request and Performance Plan stated that while IT investments support the agency as a whole, it cannot make those investments right now because of "recent budget erosion." The current budget only funds IT maintenance and a very limited number of improvements.

Future plans call for an IT Capital Investment Fund of $500,000 to modernize the agency's computers, hardware and networks. The report estimates that by 2004, most of the agency's IT equipment and software will "have reached the end of its useful life." Also on tap: $400,000 for integrated databases, $200,000 to upgrade data access. The agency estimates it would need an additional $175,000 for IT security enhancements and $125,000 for electronic signature capability.

The Consumer Product Safety Act of 1972 is what brought CPSC into being. It began operating in 1973.

Three commissioners lead the agency. The president nominates them, and the Senate confirms them for "staggered" seven-year terms. The president designates one as chairman.

Annually, there are about 24,000 deaths and almost 33 million injuries related to consumer products. The commission estimates this costs the public more than $700 billion each year. There are about 340 cooperative recalls ? the government and manufacturer agree to it ? every year.

The 2002 Annual Performance Report, issued in February 2003, stated that the "CPSC Vision" includes "a marketplace where ? state-of-the-art information technology rapidly identifies potentially hazardous products."

4330 East-West Highway

Bethesda, Md. 20814-4408

(301) 504-6816

www.cpsc.gov

Founded: 1972

Chairman: Hal Stratton

Commissioners: Mary Sheila Gall, Thomas Moore

Employees: About 480

What it does: The Consumer Product Safety Commission is an independent, federal regulatory agency that protects the public from hazards related to about 15,000 consumer products, including toys, cars, appliances among other things. It develops, issues and enforces standards, sometimes banning products if they pose an irreversible threat to the public. It issues product recalls and arranges for repair, if necessary. It performs research and compiles reports on products, works with industry to develop voluntary standards, and seeks to educate consumers.

Major offices: Regional offices in New York, Chicago and Oakland, Calif. There are six offices reporting to the chairman: congressional affairs, equal employment and minority enterprise, general counsel, inspector general, secretary and executive director. The executive director's office oversees agency policy and administration.

Number crunching

2004 budget request: $60 million

2003 budget: $56.7 million

2002 budget: $55 million

The fiscal 2004 budget request reflects a $3.2 million increase over 2003 "to maintain our current safety program and prevent further reductions of our safety purchasing power," according to the agency's 2004 Budget Request and Performance Plan.

Patrick Weddle

Courtesy of CPSC

Full title: Chief information officer

Took the job: 2001

Hometown: Gaithersburg, Md.

Home now: Mount Airy, Md.

Hobbies: Golf, helps coach a high school girls' soccer team

Currently reading: "Theodore Rex" by Edmund Morris

WT: Are your technology needs different from the typical needs of an agency?

Weddle: Not radically different than most agencies, largely office automation and e-mail. Although we collect and maintain a large amount of incident data, etc., that we use to help determine risk. What makes us a little different is that we have tried to make integrating that information a priority, and we're focusing on making our safety information available

WT: Given what your agency does, does it make you a savvier IT customer?

Weddle: CPSC has an incredible mission. We save lives and reduce injuries to people, and every one of us is committed to that. However, our overall budget and our IT budget are small. We can't afford to make mistakes, so we work hard to get the right product at the best cost.

WT: How has technology changed your agency?

Weddle: Technology has allowed us to collect and analyze information faster than ever. Consequently, we can make decisions faster. Our Web site and e-mail distribution lists get important information out to the public and media as soon as an action is taken.

WT: How have you transformed your paperwork into electronic files?

Weddle: Many of our paperbound systems already have been moved to an electronic form. Many of our efforts have been administrative, such as procurement, time keeping and human resource systems. But we've made many of our reports and systems electronic, allowing us to retrieve them from anywhere on the network. The entire collection of information is searchable using a Web-based search engine. Moving in that direction is slow; but it's going well.

WT: What do you look for in companies with which you are thinking of doing business?

Weddle: A good fit. We look for companies that understand what our needs are. We have an incredible IT staff. However, many companies want to sell an enterprise solution. We don't want to reinvent the wheel, so we look for a product fit.

WT: A year from now, where do you see the agency's technology capabilities?

Weddle: Not significantly different than today, but evolving ? same emphasis on providing more information to the public and to staff as quickly and efficiently as possible.

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