“According to the letter, responding employees’ view of the honesty and integrity of senior leaders fell from 87% approval in 2020 to 53% approval in 2021, bringing the FTC from best to worst among all surveyed federal agencies.”
The Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight and Accountability, James Comer (R-KY), announced an investigation this week into accusations raised by former Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Commissioner Christine Wilson in her resignation against the conduct of FTC Chair Lina Khan.
Wilson sent a letter to President Joe Biden in March claiming that his appointment of Khan as Chair brought “an abrupt halt” to Biden’s promised “return to normalcy” for the agency. She said that Khan “scorned and sidelined” knowledgeable career staff, in part by imposing a gag order on staff “that prevented them from engaging in consumer and business education — a vote of no confidence in our staff and a disservice to those we serve.”
Wilson also cited statistics on the results of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS), which she said show that employee confidence in senior leadership has sharply decline since Khan’s appointment. According to the letter, responding employees’ view of the honesty and integrity of senior leaders fell from 87% approval in 2020 to 53% approval in 2021, bringing the FTC from best to worst among all surveyed federal agencies. In 2022, approval fell further, to 49%.
The statistics similarly dropped from 83% agreement among those surveyed in 2020 that they have a high level of respect for the FTC ’s senior leaders, to 49% in 2021 and 44% in 2022. And 80% agreed in 2020 that senior leaders generate high levels of motivation and commitment in the workforce, but only 42% responding in 2021 and 36% in 2022 agreed with that statement.
Wilson also said that many other experienced personnel have left over the past two years due to dissatisfaction, and that “longtime FTC employees cannot remember a similar exodus at any point in the last 30 years.”
Additionally, competition and consumer protection enforcement have declined under Khan, from 31 actions against mergers in 2020 to 15 actions in 2021 and 17 in 2022. On the consumer protection front, enforcement actions dropped from 79 consumer protection actions in 2020 to only 32 in 2021 and 46 in 2022. “As the FTC held its fire, fraudsters doubled down: in 2022, consumers reported losing nearly $8.8 billion to fraud, an increase of more than 30 percent from the previous year,” Wilson’s letter said.
As a result of Wilson’s claims, Comer is seeking “documents and information to shed light on Commissioner Wilson’s allegations and determine the extent to which the Commission has deviated from its mission to protect America’s consumers.”
Comer noted that Wilson specifically raised concerns about Khan’s refusal to recuse herself from review of Meta’s proposed merger with Within Unlimited, despite Khan’s comments that “Meta should never be allowed to merge with any company,” according to Comer’s letter.
Among Wilson’s other specific allegations noted in Comer’s letter was “the Commission’s launch in January 2023 of a rulemaking to ban under the FTC Act ‘nearly all noncompete clauses in employee contracts’—which, Commissioner Wilson argued, defied fresh Supreme Court precedent that ‘an agency can’t claim ‘to discover in a long extant statute an unheralded power representing a transformative expansion in its regulatory authority.’”
Comer’s letter questioned whether the FTC has become “a rogue agency” under Khan’s leadership and asked the agency to deliver on nine requests to aid the investigation, including an unredacted version of Wilson’s dissent regarding the Meta-Within Unlimited merger.