The FTC has benefited from "fairly generous" White House budget requests and congressional appropriations, but it has suffered from a string of lengthy continuing resolutions that have made long-term strategic planning difficult, Chairman William Kovacic said today. Speaking at a breakfast with high-tech executives, Kovacic called the continuing resolutions "poison" to the consumer protection and competition commission and said the 18-month holdover for FY08 was "terribly unfortunate." President Bush has proposed giving the FTC $256 million in FY09, up from $243 million for FY08, which Congress approved. Kovacic, who replaced Deborah Platt Majoras this year, said he will appear before the Senate Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee next Wednesday with Commissioner Jon Leibowitz to make his case for the allocation. If the FTC is forced to tighten its belt, he said, it would "raise the urgency for us to think more carefully about how we set strategy."
Senate Commerce Chairman Daniel Inouye and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., introduced a bill last month aimed at giving the FTC more money. The reauthorization would cover a seven-year period starting in 2009 and set its funding first at $264 million, with annual increases of 10 percent. The measure would also give the agency independent regulatory authority, let the FTC start civil actions in district courts and repeal an exemption that precludes action against common carriers for anticompetitive practices. Kovacic said he was heartened by lawmakers' interest in the long-term health of the FTC. Attention to what is needed for capital planning and programs five or 10 years from now is "a good place for the conversation to go," he told members of the Computer and Communications Industry Association.
Kovacic said he realizes his tenure will be brief because the new president, regardless of party affiliation, will want to pick a new FTC chairman. He said he plans to make the most of that time by focusing on improving institutional resources, evaluating past work and planning for the agency's centennial in 2014. The main challenge for the FTC "is the rapid change in technology and product development, [which] puts enormous pressure at the joints of institutions," Kovacic said. Agencies have been slow to learn about and diagnose phenomena and "devise sensible and timely responses," he explained. Later this month, Kovacic will unveil a framework for his plan to evaluate the FTC, but he said consultations with the private sector, consumer advocates and the public will be integral.
This article appears in the May 10, 2008 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.