KID had the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Midgett, PhD, child psychologist and the first CPSC Consumer Ombudsman about this newly created role and how he will build a strong consumer voice at the agency.
Tell us about yourself and your work in product safety.
Midgett: I’ve been at the Commission for about 19 years. I started in the Division of Human Factors doing toy age determinations. I later became the children’s hazard team lead where I helped develop voluntary standards. After doing that for some time, I worked for Commissioner Elliott Kaye as a special assistant. Now I’m back on staff as the Consumer Ombudsman. This gives me a nice perspective on what people do at the agency and how we get the job done. I’ve witnessed first-hand the making of recalls and the negotiations that go into getting recalls, as well as the budgeting and planning that keeps the CPSC up and running. I feel like I have a unique perspective to bring to consumers who need to understand what’s going on with this government agency that they have only just learned about and only just discovered, because we’re a small agency, but we’re still part of a very complex government –I’m helping bridge the gap between what people know, what they think they know, and how things are really made at the CPSC.
How did the consumer ombudsman office come about at the CPSC?
Midgett: A few years ago, the CPSC started the small business ombudsman office and that has grown from just one person to four staff members taking care of small businesses, which are arguably one of our largest constituent groups. The success of that office prompted the Commission to start thinking about our other constituent groups and thought that consumers needed one dedicated to them as well. I think they realized through the success of the small business ombudsman that this could be something that really helps one of our stakeholder groups.
How do you see your role as Consumer Ombudsman?
Midgett: The line I like to quote the most about my mission is to “provide an agency perspective to consumers and a consumer perspective to the agency.” I like that because it puts me between two different worlds – between consumers and the agency. I see my mission as to describe to consumers what the agency is doing in plain language with as few acronyms as possible. I’m here to help them tease apart what they need to know in order to make their voice heard and to achieve the goals that they have for safety with their families. I’m also here to build relationships with consumers.
How will the Consumer Ombudsman work to protect consumers from unsafe products?
Midgett: I’m contributing to the agency’s mission in that we want to enhance our recalls and the consumers’ understanding of how recalls work and bring more and more people to an awareness of how they can stay abreast of the latest developments in product safety. I work to bring all of these things out into the public eye in a way that is most useful to consumers given the restrictions that we deal with in the federal government.
How will the consumer ombudsman help consumers regarding recalled products?
Midgett: I can draw on my understanding of consumer behavior, specifically consumer health-related behaviors and risk management behaviors and help compliance officers understand what’s likely to happen in a recall, which could help them communicate and negotiate recalls in a way that’s more effective for consumers in the long run. The role of the consumer ombudsman is to be a contributing staff member to making recalls more effective, more efficient, and better for preventing pain and injury in the world.
Our research has shown that many recalled products, especially children’s products, remain in homes even after the recall. What can your office do to change that?
Midgett: I would like to help network with the consumer advocacy organizations so that I could be a central hub for increasing the average consumer’s awareness of the agency and what the agency does. I would like to be a resource for those advocacy groups so that they can be as effective as possible. I would also be a point of contact for consumers who are interested in contributing to safety-related activity, such as voluntary standards.
Consumers can play a key role in providing comments to CPSC regarding rulemaking. Will the Ombudsman play a role in the rulemaking process and how so?
Midgett: The rulemaking process is not going to change a lot. There may be an opportunity in the future for me to provide comment if there’s an issue where the Commission feels that the consumer voice is not being represented well.
What about the reverse – how will you build a stronger consumer voice at CPSC?
Midgett: I can, as part of my daily duties, contribute the consumer voice to discussions we have as staff members and in how to create regulations and recalls. I’m going to make the consumer voice heard through the normal day-to-day interactions that I have with staff members bringing to them the problems that consumers are having and working with them to solve those problems.
What’s one thing you want all parents & caregivers to know?
Midgett: I want parents and caregivers, especially those who have experienced tragedy, to know that we at the CPSC care about them and we want to work with them. We are working every day to prevent pain and suffering every way that we know how.
I want people to know that if they experience a safety problem with any consumer product, they can make a report and that they should make a report at SaferProducts.gov. If they tell us about a problem that they’ve encountered with a consumer product, we can take action. If they don’t tell us, we may or may not hear about it. I want consumers to know how important it is to communicate with us through SaferProducts.gov.
KID thanks Jonathan Midgett for taking the time to speak with us and we look forward to working with him to protect children and consumers from unsafe products. We encourage all consumers to reach out through the ombudsman when they are looking for information, or if they are having trouble getting a response on an issue. Connect with the CPSC’s Consumer Ombudsman here. Please use the comment section below to share your experiences with CPSC.