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If a consumer has a question about product safety, one of the last places to look for a quick and specific answer is the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The procedures for getting any information are so complex and stringent that months can go by before an answer is forthcoming. And any answer is certain to be heavily impacted by the maker of the product being questioned.Although the CPSC supposedly regulates some 15,000 consumer products, it is bound by a rule prohibiting the release of any product data that names a specific manufacturer without first obtaining that manufacturer's consent. Obviously, in a case where there is criticism or complaints about a product, that consent may not be easy to get.

Under the rules, the manufacturer must be given a chance to comment on the accuracy of the information to be released; the CPSC must review the manufacturer's comments and ensure that any data is accurate and fair.

That sounds reasonable, but in practice, this means that the agency must conduct investigations, do analyses, confirm consumer complaints and do follow-up technical work if a manufacturer objects to the accuracy of the information.

Since the agency's resources are limited and there is always the threat of a lawsuit if manufacturers are not satisfied with the CPSC efforts, the result is a muffled response to public complaints or requests for information.

Certainly, efforts must be made to ensure that manufacturers are not named in such ways that they suffer economic loss when it wasn't deserved. And private companies and their customers are probably more harmed and hampered by overzealous regulators than government is hamstrung by manufacturers.

Still, there ought to be some middle ground that allows for faster release of information about product hazards without getting so tangled in red tape that the subsequent data is rendered almost useless.