The head of the nation’s product safety regulator says she’s stepping down when her term ends in October, a surprise announcement that follows criticism for how the agency handled a recall of the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play and its decision to not force a recall of a jogging stroller.
Ann Marie Buerkle, a Republican, made the announcement in an email sent earlier today to staff at the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The Washington Post obtained a copy of the email.
Buerkle has served as the commission’s acting chairwoman since early 2017, after President Trump won the White House, giving her day-to-day control over an agency that is responsible for regulating safety in about 15,000 consumer products. She has been one of five agency commissioners since 2013.
Buerkle’s decision comes as she was waiting for Senate confirmation of her renomination by Trump to continue in her role at the CPSC for another seven years. She said in an email to agency staff she had notified the White House that she is withdrawing her pending nomination and plans to step down as acting chairwoman on Sept. 30 and depart entirely on Oct. 27.
“During the remainder of my tenure, I will remain steadfast in executing the mission of the CPSC and continuing our critical safety work,” Buerkle wrote.
Her brief time running the agency has been marked by two high-profile decisions.
Late last year, she voted in favor of a settlement with Britax that allowed the company to avoid a safety recall after nearly 100 people were injured when the front wheels on their BOB jogging strollers came off. The settlement — which passed along party lines 3-2 — ended a CPSC lawsuit that sought to force Britax to recall the strollers. An investigation by The Post found that Buerkle kept Democratic commissioners in the dark about the stroller investigation and then helped end the case in court.
She was leading the agency as it decided whether to recall Fisher-Price’s popular Rock ‘n Play inclined infant sleeper. Buerkle and the agency were criticized after Consumer Reports revealed that the Rock ‘n Play was tied to 32 infant deaths, three times more than the agency had previously publicly acknowledged.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and Consumer Reports announced it wanted a recall days before the agency took action on April 12, joining Fisher-Price in taking 4.7 million inclined sleepers off the market.
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.
Consumer advocates said they hope Buerkle’s replacement more aggressively addresses what they see as safety problems.
“Her focus on education and voluntary standards is not enough to prevent harms that unsafe products can cause to consumers,” said Rachel Weintraub, general counsel at the Consumer Federation of America.
Buerkle is still expected to visit the Senate on Thursday for a previously scheduled Senate committee oversight hearing. For now, she remains part of the commission’s 3-to-2 Republican majority.
“I think she’s a fundamentally decent, fair-minded person,” said longtime Democratic commissioner Robert S. Adler. “She and I disagreed strongly on many, many issues of regulatory philosophy and policy. But I think she was an excellent chair for this agency.”