The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC or the Commission) is a small federal agency with a big job: protecting consumers from unreasonable risks of injury associated with the use of thousands of types of consumer products. With an Operating Plan budget for fiscal year 2021 of $135 million and 539 employees1-tiny by federal government standards-CPSC uses safety data submitted by companies pursuant to the notification requirements under Section 15 of the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA) to help carry out the agency’s mandate.2 The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA) dramatically increased the maximum penalties for noncompliance,3 and both CPSC and the U.S. Department of Justice have used that authority to impose multimillion-dollar penalties against a number of companies for alleged late reporting under Section 15 and other violations.

Congress created CPSC as an independent commission, which means that it does not report to the president either directly or through any department or agency of the federal government. CPSC can have up to five commissioners, one of whom serves as chair, and only three of whom can be from the same political party. CPSC’s chair and commissioners are appointed by the president for seven-year terms with the advice and consent of the Senate.4 On October 1, 2019, Robert S. Adler (D) became acting chair by a majority vote of the Commission to replace the departing acting chair, Ann Marie Buerkle (R), whose term as commissioner expired at the end of October 2019.5  As a result, until another commissioner is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, the Commission is evenly split with two Republican commissioners (Dana Baiocco and Peter A. Feldman) and two Democratic commissioners (Robert S. Adler and Elliot F. Kaye). President Biden will now be able to nominate and seek Senate confirmation of a Democrat to fill the open seat, resulting in a 3-2 Democratic majority. However, even before any such change occurs, in late 2020 and early 2021 there has been evidence of increased enforcement activity at CPSC for alleged late reporting, following a gap of more than two years since the most recent prior penalty settlement.

This desk reference first explains the Section 15 notification requirements, including the broad scope of CPSC’s jurisdiction, and then discusses routes to a product safety recall, reporting and recall trends, and penalties for late reporting.


1 CPSC, Fiscal Year 2021 Operating Plan (Nov. 10, 2020).

2 Pub. L. No. 92-573, 86 Stat. 1207 (1972), codified at 15 U.S.C. §§ 2051-2089.

3 Pub. L. No. 110-314, § 217, 122 Stat. 3016, 3058.

4 15 U.S.C. § 2053.

5 CPSC, Record of Commission Action, Election of Vice Chairman (Sept. 13, 2019).