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Monday January 25, 2021

Adler Asks Senate for Help with COVID-19 Vaccines for Ports Staff, Others

CPSC Acting Chairman Bob Adler January 15 wrote the Senate committee and subcommittee that oversee the agency seeking aid in getting COVID-19 vaccines for staffers whose duties make social distancing difficult. Those include CPSC port inspectors, field staff, and lab personnel.


He highlighted the challenge at the ports:

"We…have found that logistics at the port make it very difficult for inspectors to remain socially distant from their colleagues – often there are dozens of inspectors from various federal agencies, as well as warehouse staff, working closely together in tight quarters to identify, inspect, and manage thousands of shipments a shift."

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen if numerous pandemic-related executive orders subsequently signed by President Joe Biden January 20, including on frontline worker safety, might help CPSC address the situation.


Adler's reason for writing was that CPSC followed OMB instructions, under the previous administration, to designate priority staff. But then CPSC heard back from OMB that it should seek help from the states. It did so, but as of Adler's letter, only three of twelve contacted states had responded.


He added that he also reached out to Customs senior officials to see if CPSC staff who interact with CBP staff might be included in that agency's vaccination efforts.


However, he wrote, "[T]hey have indicated that they have no nationwide CBP vaccination plan, and instead their staff is being instructed to pursue vaccinations in individual states." He concluded the letter with this plea:

"Thus, to date, we have not been able to secure vaccinations, or even a timeline for vaccinations, for these workers. Given the lack of a coordinated federal effort to assist federal workers who require priority status, I am writing to ask for any assistance you might be able to provide in ensuring our personnel get vaccinated as soon as possible. I hope we can work together to ensure that CPSC staff are adequately protected, as they in turn protect American consumers."

His letter additionally confirmed that agency inspectors were not at the ports until September when "we secured enough PPE to safely deploy them to resume operations that had been shared with [CBP]."


The recently passed FY2021 funding bill (PSL, 1/4/21) gave CPSC a goal of reviewing 90% of qualifying RAM risk-scored shipments during the remainder of the pandemic. That directive was added to the legislation following a December USA Today story about the pause in port staffing.


Meanwhile, last fall (PSL, 11/2/20), Adler told participants in an ICPHSO online conference that CPSC had set up staggered teams for the Rockville, Md. lab. The groups stayed separate from each other, using the facility on different days. The goal was to preserve some lab personnel if there were a breakout among a particular team.


CPSC was early among federal agencies to push as many staff as possible to precautionary telework (PSL, 3/13/20).


Adler's letter went to leaders from both parties of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation committee as well as the Manufacturing, Trade, and Consumer Protection subcommittee. It additionally cc'd Appropriations leadership.