Federal Trade Commission Chairman Timothy J. Muris said that aggressive law enforcement, coupled with consumer and business education campaigns, will characterize the coming year at the FTC. In Commission testimony before the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Muris said, "The FTC will continue to address significant law enforcement and policy issues throughout the economy, devoting the major portion of its resources to those areas in which the agency can provide the greatest benefits to consumers."
The Commission highlighted five areas of special focus:
The testimony notes that changes in technology and the growing importance of intellectual property have caused significant changes in both the consumer protection and competition missions at the agency. "The consumer protection mission focuses increasingly on high-tech frauds, while the competition mission works to provide consumers with the full benefits of both innovation and competition," the testimony says. "Both antitrust and intellectual property law share the common purposes of promoting innovation and enhancing consumer welfare," the testimony states. "On occasion, however, there have been tensions in how to manage the intersection between the doctrines, as well as questions about how best to spur innovation through competition and intellectual property law and policy. These issues may well merit broader and more in-depth study."
The testimony says that health-related products, which account for approximately 15 percent of gross domestic product, constitute an important part of the FTC's focus. The testimony notes that the FTC will continue its efforts to prevent antiticompetitive practices that raise drug prices. "In particular, we will strive to ensure that antitcompetitive practices do not delay market entry of generic drugs, which cost less than name-brand pharmaceuticals." To fight health care fraud, the FTC has launched "Operation Cure.All," a comprehensive consumer education, business education, and law enforcement initiative targeting deceptive and misleading Internet promotion of products and services as cures or treatments for serious diseases.
"The Commission intends to increase substantially the resources dedicated to privacy protection," notes the testimony. "Our initiatives in this area attempt to reduce the serious consequences that can result from the misuse of personal information and fall into three major categories: vigorous enforcement of existing laws, additional rulemaking, and continued consumer and business education."
The energy sector accounts for a significant portion of the nation's total economic output, and is a vital input to virtually all sectors of the economy. "We have brought law enforcement actions challenging deceptive energy savings claims for various products," the testimony says. The FTC also has investigated a number of oil mergers, and has brought cases where appropriate. In addition, the FTC has hosted a series of conferences and hearings exploring the factors that affect the price of refined petroleum products, advised states on emerging consumer issues as they deregulate and restructure their electricity and natural gas markets, and investigated price spikes and pricing anomalies, including an investigation into the price spikes following the September 11 terrorist attacks. "Although these investigations did not find antitrust violations, Commission investigations nonetheless both have a deterrent effect on wrongdoing and provide the basis for action when anticompetitive practices have occurred."
The testimony says the FTC will continue its careful evaluation of mergers, including mergers that may fall below Hart-Scott-Rodino Act notification thresholds. "The FTC also continues to focus attention on reducing the burden of merger investigations. We are reviewing the burden caused - both to the government and the parties - by document productions received in response to so-called 'Second Requests.' We are also assessing whether merger investigations can be streamlined and shortened," the testimony says. "The agency's mission is to protect the welfare of consumers. Today's Federal Trade Commission has forged a widespread consensus on how to protect consumers and how to work with other federal and state agencies to provide maximum benefits for consumers from our limited resources. We will continue to use the full panoply of our institutional tools in fulfilling this important mission."
The Commission vote to approve the testimony was 5-0.
Copies of the Commission testimony are available from the FTC's web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint, or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov.
The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.