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Wednesday January 22, 2020

Buerkle Joins Williams & Jensen in DC

Former CPSC Acting Chairman Ann Marie Buerkle spoke to PSL about her decision to join the Washington, D.C. office of Williams & Jensen as a principal starting January 22. While not speaking about specific projects and acknowledging that taking on product safety work would be a "low-hanging fruit," she expressed anticipation at tapping into the other expertise of the law firm/lobbying group.


She added that health policy is another likely project area, observing that it has been a career-long interest, ranging from her early days as a registered nurse to the public-health aspects of CPSC's mission.


On the other hand, she stressed, "I don't what to limit myself," referring to the projects she might decide to take on. A press release from the firm said she would be focusing on "challenging regulatory, enforcement, and reputational issues." It also said she would "engage on a wide portfolio of issues."


As for lessons and experiences from her time at CPSC and how she will use them, Buerkle echoed a position she frequently took while on the commission – the value of listening to the various opinions on an issue and having transparent discussions about such topics.


She also predicted that the effects of technological change will continue to be a challenge companies need to watch, especially ecommerce where the changes are happening fast. She warned against relying on old business strategies, mentioning as an example the difficulty of staying ahead of counterfeiting, especially on third party platforms. Be proactive, she urged.


However, she acknowledged that traditional needs still exist, be they brick-and-mortar issues or staying on top of regulatory and legislative trends. On the last, she pointed to the numerous House bills targeting CPSC, specifically mentioning the recent one to ease 6(b) procedures (PSL, 1/21/20). Changes could come fast she warned, describing Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) as focused on safety. Schakowsky chairs the consumer protection subcommittee, where early work on most CPSC-related bills occurs.


As for CPSC itself, she reiterated another assertion she frequently made at the agency, placing process above a desired outcome. She said that approach puts CPSC in better positions against legal challenges to its decisions. On the other hand, she also briefly noted the value in having the scientists and engineers develop the technical solutions as opposed to the lawyers.


Buerkle said she looks back with fondness at the agency as well as saying she thinks she had an impact on its culture. She added that it is staffed with talented people and that she thinks she left it in good hands.


Prior to leaving CPSC, she voted across party lines to leave Commissioner Robert Adler in the acting chairman position. She is a Republican, and he is a Democrat. In an interview with PSL soon after taking the reins, Adler pointed to Buerkle's priority of hearing various stakeholder views and said he wanted to continue it (PSL, 10/7/19).


Buerkle left the commission in October. She joined CPSC in 2013. In early 2017, she received two nominations to become chairman officially and to serve for another seven-year term. However, the Senate did not take final action on those before she withdrew them (PSL, 6/24/19). She is a former U.S. representative from New York and a former assistant state attorney general there.