Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan has been ruffling more than a few feathers since taking over the helm of the commission. Not only has Khan laid out an aggressive policy agenda, he has also sought to expand the commission’s powers and centralize control of the agency within his office, prompting Professor Richard Pearce to predict that his tenure would be a “rollercoaster ride”.
Khan’s aggressive, progressive agenda has provoked strong opposition from some sections of the business community. The FTC’s move to eliminate the use of non-compete agreements has been characterized as a “suffocating power grab” and will provoke a serious legal challenge. Another lawsuit against Wal-Mart has prompted the giant retailer to question its viability Humphrey’s executors and challenged the FTC’s constitutionality.
Khan’s agenda has also caused consternation within the FTC and is apparently prompting one commissioner—Christine Wilson—to resign. Wilson wrote The Wall Street Journal:
Much ink has been spilled about Lina Khan’s efforts to reshape federal antitrust laws as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. Less has been said about his disregard for the rule of law and due process, and the way senior FTC officials enabled him. I have repeatedly failed to convince Ms. Khan and her supporters to do the right thing, and I refuse to give their efforts any further indication of legitimacy. Accordingly, I will soon resign as an FTC Commissioner.
Since Ms. Khan’s confirmation in 2021, my staff and I have spent countless hours exposing her abuse of official power. That task has become increasingly difficult as he has consolidated power within the chairman’s office, breaking with decades of bipartisan precedent and weakening the commission structure written into law by Congress. I’ve tried to provide transparency and facilitate accountability through speeches and statements, but I’ve been hampered by the information I can disclose – many legitimate, but some designed to avoid embarrassment by Ms. Khan and the Democratic majority.
Don’t be surprised if Republican FTC commissioners object to Khan’s agenda. Khan’s leadership approach to the divisive nature of the FTC’s career, on the other hand, may be more surprising.
From Wilson WSJ Op-Ed:
I am not alone in having concerns about the integrity and honesty of Ms. Khan and her senior FTC leadership. Hundreds of FTC employees respond each year to the Federal Employee Attitudes Survey. In 2020, the last year under Trump’s tenure, 87% of FTC employees surveyed agreed that the agency’s senior officials maintained high standards of honesty and integrity. Today that share stands at 49%.
Many FTC staff agree with Ms. Khan on antitrust policy, so the results of this survey do not reflect disagreement with her end. Instead, Data reveals workers’ discomfort with his methods, which involve dishonesty and abuse to pursue his agenda. I don’t agree with Ms. Khan’s policy goals but understand that elections have consequences. My fundamental concerns with his leadership of the Commission relate to his willful disregard for the limits imposed by Congress on the agency’s authority, his denial of legal precedent, and his abuse of power to achieve desired results.
Just because Khan’s leadership style ruffles feathers or departs from precedent doesn’t (necessarily) mean he’s doing anything wrong, or that his policy initiatives won’t survive legal challenges. On the other hand, the type of objection being made may be of the kind that might induce judicial anxiety or suggest a failure to engage in reasoned decision-making that often leads agencies to defeat in court.