Ann Marie Buerkle, the acting chairwoman and a Republican, is awaiting confirmation by the full Senate to continue serving at the agency beyond this year. Her nominations by President Trump for both commissioner and chairwoman passed Wednesday from a Senate committee on a 14-12 party-line vote.
Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) — who voted against Buerkle’s nominations in the committee — said later in a statement they hoped the documents “would reveal the extent of her role in undermining product safety investigations and other potential wrongdoing.”
Buerkle was chairwoman — responsible for running the agency — when agency staff first pushed to recall the three-wheeled BOB jogging stroller in early 2017. Staff pointed to problems with the stroller’s front wheel attachment as the likely cause behind consumer-submitted reports of injuries to nearly 100 adults and children, including broken bones and facial lacerations. Staff worried the crashes could cause potentially life-threatening injuries, according to The Post article.
After the BOB stroller’s maker, Britax Child Safety, refused the agency’s request for a voluntary recall — saying it believed its stroller was safe and did not contain a defect — the company and regulators battled for months. They reached a settlement in late 2018, which was lauded by Republican commissioners as the best possible outcome and criticized by consumer advocates as failing to protect consumers. Buerkle for months had hid the investigation from the agency’s Democratic commissioners and then pushed the case toward settlement, according to the Post article.
Buerkle released a statement Wednesday that called The Washington Post article “misleading,” adding that the agency’s settlement with Britax “advances consumer safety.”
“The safety agenda of this important agency has remained the same — to seek the best solution in the shortest amount of time to help prevent unreasonable risks of harm to consumers,” she said. “Any attempt by individuals to spin the story otherwise is misleading and a disservice to our agency experts and all their efforts to find a solution that would improve consumer safety as quickly as possible.”
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said during the committee meeting Wednesday that The Post article “describes Ms. Buerkle’s working to shield a jogging stroller company from recall, which I believe is a concern that needs to have further investigation.”
Blumenthal and Markey, in their letter requesting documents from Buerkle, wrote they are seeking “a better understanding of the extent of your relationships, coordination across industries, and to ascertain how your actions may have resulted in continued harm to consumer safety.”
The letter also said the senators were concerned about a report published in Fair Warning earlier this year about Buerkle’s connections to the portable generator industry.
Britax said Wednesday in a statement sent to other media outlets that it “is unfortunate the Washington Post article characterizes the pre-September 2015 BOB jogging stroller settlement as simply politics.” Britax also said in the statement it takes “safety very seriously and regrets any injuries (that) occurred while using our products.”
Multiple attempts by The Post to obtain the statement were unsuccessful Wednesday.