When Hon. Ann Marie Buerkle, commissioner of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, stepped to the microphone amid thundering applause at the PPAI Product Responsibility Summit on Tuesday, her first words were to praise those in attendance. “Your entrepreneurial spirit is what makes America such a great place. It’s what keeps the American dream alive and well,” she said. Buerkle, a former nurse, attorney, member of Congress, mother of six, grandmother of 16 and one of five CPSC commissioners, was appointed to the agency by President Barack Obama in May 2013. She was confirmed by the U.S. Senate later that year for a five-year term.

After practicing law for 14 years, she ran for Congress in 2010 because she was concerned with the direction of the country.

During the nearly 60-minute presentation, she shed light on her professional background, explained how she approaches CPSC decisions, discussed some of her concerns and goals, and thanked PPAI for leading the way in its approach to product responsibility. She noted that the CPSC is a relatively small agency charged with protecting the public and jurisdiction over approximately 15,000 products.

“The problem that we have is that Washington exists in a bubble,” she said. “We make rules but don’t always understand how they affect working people. It’s important for events like this to help make us aware. Thank you to PPAI for your efforts to educate your industry and to interact with our agency.” She also called PPAI the poster child for how to create a product safety aware program.

Buerkle went on to explain her viewpoint borne of diverse life roles and responsibilities that give her unique insight into what the agency does and the safety issues it faces. “I’ve seen the far-ranging impact of agencies,” she said. “It troubles me when we try to do too much with what Congress gives us. It’s important that we understand that we are affecting real lives and real people.”

Since coming to the agency, Buerkle has developed three pillars on which she bases her decisions: education (“It should be preferred over regulation.”); collaboration (“Strong, positive relationships with all stakeholders are crucial to consumer safety. You know the issues; we need to hear from you.”); and balance (“Consumer safety can achieved in a balanced, reasonable way. We need to make sure the rules we make really do promote safety.”).

She reviewed requirements for children’s products, labeling, civil penalties (almost all are for late reporting) and shared a key piece of best-practice advice: “The mindset has to begin with high-level management,” she said. “Good supply chain management is critical. Keep your practices tight and know what’s going on.”

Her talk also touched on two issues on which the agency is currently working: test burden reduction and import surveillance, and she wrapped up her presentation with a plea for continued engagement with the promotional products industry.

“I encourage all of you to pay attention to the standards being discussed and stay engaged to what the regulations are doing,” she said. “We’re different from other agencies—we are a small, regulatory agency with a specific mission. We need your expertise and input. We can’t achieve our mission in isolation. You need to understand what we are doing and we need to have your engagement.”