By Alex Reinauer, Competitive Enterprise Institute
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) submitted its annual budget request last week, requesting $590 million for FY 2024. This would be a $160 million increase from FY 2023.
The request comes amid an outpour of criticism directed at the FTC, with many calling for congressional oversight of the independent agency. Under the leadership of Chair Lina Khan, the FTC has departed from established norms and instead embarked upon ideological crusades against “big” business. These pursuits are not rooted in sound law or economics, and they should not go un-checked by the legislative branch.
The ambitious budget request signals that the agency will continue with its misguided priorities under Chair Khan. The FTC is seeking $70 million for more than 300 new full-time staffers to further support the agency’s efforts on merger challengers, rulemaking, and investigations.
Staff morale at the FTC is already low. The most recent Office of Personnel Management Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey found that less than half of employees believe that FTC “senior leaders maintain high standards of honesty and integrity.” And recent reports show that at least 71 senior staff attorneys left the agency between 2021 and 2022, the largest departure of staff since 2000.
Further, the FTC keeps losing cases. Chair Khan’s plans to ramp up antitrust enforcement against mergers and acquisitions have a poor track record, displaying a particularly inefficient and frivolous use of taxpayers’ dollar. It’s hard to conceive of a reason to reward the FTC with such a large budget request.
The problems with the current FTC don’t stop there. Public record requests revealed that FTC staff colluded with European antitrust regulators to block Illumina’s acquisition of Grail, which is hindering the testing and deployment of an early cancer detection test. And the FTC’s requests of Twitter to divulge its communications with journalists prompted congressional leadership to demand answers.
Instead of increasing the FTC’s budget, Congress should increase oversight of an agency gone rogue.
Alex Reinauer is a Research Fellow with the Center for Technology and Innovation at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, focusing on tech policy and antitrust.