The Federal Trade Commission voted to approve a series of resolutions authorizing investigations into key law enforcement priorities for the next decade. Specifically, the resolutions direct agency staff to use “compulsory process,” such as subpoenas, to investigate seven specific enforcement priorities. Priority targets include repeat offenders; technology companies and digital platforms; and healthcare businesses such as pharmaceutical companies, pharmacy benefits managers, and hospitals. The agency is also prioritizing investigations into harms against workers and small businesses, along with harms related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, at a time when merger filings are surging, the agency is ramping up enforcement against illegal mergers, both proposed and consummated.
In remarks delivered during the open meeting, Chair Lina M. Khan noted that the resolutions approved today represent an important step in rethinking the work of the FTC. Instituting new cross-agency, investigatory resolutions will promote a more holistic use of the FTC’s enforcement authorities to stop bad actors across markets.
“The reforms are designed to ensure that our staff can comprehensively investigate unlawful business practices across the economy,” said Chair Khan. “They will help relieve unnecessary burdens on staff and cut back delays and ‘red tape’ bureaucracy when it comes to advancing our Commission’s law enforcement priorities. This is particularly important given that we are in the midst of a massive merger boom.”
Compulsory process refers to the issuance of demands for documents and testimony, through the use of civil investigative demands and subpoena. The FTC Act authorizes the Commission to use compulsory process in its investigations. Compulsory process requires the recipient to produce information, and these orders are enforceable by courts. The Commission has routinely adopted compulsory process resolutions on a wide range of topics. Many of these resolutions cover specific industries, like the automobile industry or the postsecondary education industry, while others involve business practices that cut across sectors, like privacy or the targeting of older Americans.
The actions taken today will broaden the ability for FTC investigators and prosecutors to obtain evidence in critical investigations on key areas where the FTC’s work can make the most impact. Each omnibus authorizes investigations into any competition or consumer protection conduct violations under the FTC Act. The omnibuses will also allow staff to use compulsory process to investigate both proposed mergers and consummated mergers. Individual Commissioners will continue to be required to sign compulsory process documents prior to issuance. With these in place, the FTC can better utilize its limited resources and move forward in earnest to fix the market structures that allow the worst predators to proliferate.
The Commission voted 3-2 to approve the omnibus resolutions in an open Commission meeting. Chair Khan and Commissioners Rohit Chopra and Rebecca Kelly Slaughter voted yes, and Commissioners Noah Joshua Phillips and Christine S. Wilson voted no. Commissioner Chopra issued a statement. Commissioner Wilson issued a dissenting statement.
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