Like many other agencies, organizations, and employers across the country, we in the Bureau of Competition are adjusting to the realities of working during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis. As part of that adjustment, we are taking a variety of measures to respond to these new and challenging circumstances. Our two main priorities will continue to be: first, the health and well-being of our personnel, their families, and parties and organizations who appear before us; and, second, the continuity of our mission to protect competition and consumers.
To that end, and among other things, we are making the following changes. All of these measures are subject to modification in individual cases, and in light of changing circumstances.
- First, virtually all of our employees are now working remotely. Almost all internal and external meetings will be handled by telephone or videoconference. Parties should assume that BC meetings, including Front Office meetings, will be held remotely until further notice. Parties should expect that Commissioner meetings in BC matters will be conducted by telephone or videoconference rather than in-person.
- Second, we are conducting a matter-by-matter review of our investigations and litigations to consider appropriate modifications of statutory or agreed-to timing. Parties and their counsel should expect that we will be in touch to discuss proposed modifications; they should also feel free to reach out to staff proactively to begin those discussions themselves. We understand that some proposed modifications may be inconvenient and that parties may be reluctant to agree to them, but we trust that parties will value a flexible and reasonable approach. Companies and their counsel should appreciate that, as always, we will take affirmative action to protect consumers when necessary, including when an unmodified time period does not allow us to address competitive concerns.
- Third, we are reallocating resources across the Bureau to maintain continuity of core operations. This will mean some loss of capacity, particularly in non-enforcement activities. To pick an obvious and visible example, BC employees are canceling participation in most conferences and other public events for the foreseeable future, and any participation likely will be remotely rather than in person.
- Fourth, we have imposed travel restrictions on Bureau personnel. BC staff may undertake official travel only with the permission of the Front Office, which will be granted only in compelling circumstances. This will have implications for a range of activities, and we are in the process of identifying and evaluating those implications.
- Fifth, as we announced last Friday, we will be accepting all HSR filings electronically starting on Tuesday, March 17. We established a temporary e-filing system to accommodate the move to telework and to provide flexibility if future announcements further limit access to FTC buildings. That means we will no longer accept hard copy or DVD submissions. We also will not grant requests for early termination of the waiting period while temporary e-filing is in effect. Note that we will accept electronic signatures on the certification and affidavit while this emergency lasts, and any electronic submission received after 5PM will be credited as received on the next business day. Please keep an eye on the PNO page for updates to the electronic filing procedures.
These are challenging times, but we have every confidence in the ability and goodwill of our staff – and of the counsel and parties with whom we deal – to continue the work of Bureau and move matters ahead as efficiently as possible. The protection of competition, and the welfare of American consumers, is as important now as ever. Our working model may be changing in some ways for the foreseeable future, but we remain on duty and open for business. We appreciate your cooperation and patience as we negotiate this transition.