By Natalie DeCoste

Members of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) testified on Wednesday before the House Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce of the Committee on Energy and Commerce in a hearing entitled “Transforming the FTC: Legislation to Modernize Consumer Protection.

The subcommittee hearing was held to address legislation to modify the FTC’s authority and address other pressing issues facing the agency. The members of the FTC in attendance included Chairwoman Lina Khan, with commissioners Noah Joshua Phillips, Rohit Chopra, Rebecca K. Slaughter, and Christine S. Wilson.

In the written testimony submitted to the subcommittee, the agency explained how it plays a critical role in ensuring that markets are fair for consumers and businesses. However, the witnesses explained that the FTC’s authority and ability to ensure fair competition are not without challenges.

“The global pandemic has devastated families across the United States, and bad actors are seeking to prey on their pain. A surge in corporate mergers threatens more transactions that may substantially lessen competition. And the Commission’s ability to tackle key challenges – from COVID fraud to anticompetitive conduct – has been substantially diminished after the Supreme Court’s recent decision in AMG, which barred the Commission from seeking monetary relief under Section 13(b) of the FTC Act,” explained the witnesses.

The agency applauded its efforts to continue working in the face of these challenges, pointing to the civil penalty authority granted to the FTC by the subcommittee. The civil penalty authority was granted to the FTC in the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act and has helped the Commission successfully halt dozens of COVID-related scams.

The testimony also addressed the resource constraints the FTC is currently under, specifically in the face of more mergers and acquisitions.

“Global mergers and acquisitions have soared to new records, putting heavy stress on our ability to effectively investigate and challenge unlawful transactions.6 The pandemic has also led to large numbers of complaints to the FTC about marketplace abuses. The Commission believes that additional resources are necessary to help it effectively achieve its mission,” explained the testimony.

Addressing some of the actions that would come out of the bills should they pass, the FTC expressed its support for the repeal of the telecommunications common carrier exemption. The agency claimed that the exemption had impeded the FTC’s ability to address illegal telemarketing scams.

The testimony also offered support for the bills that would subject nonprofits to the FTC Act and, in certain contexts, give the Commission rulemaking and civil penalty authority. The Commissioners did note that some of them would support such measures in more limited ways.