FTC, Justice reorg plan fails


A reorganization of responsibilities between the two federal antitrust
bodies -- the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission -- failed
Thursday after members of Congress and other FTC commissioners complained that
their input had not been sought.

'The agreement announced today is the product of private discussions between
[FTC] chairman [Timothy] Muris and Assistant Attorney General [Charles] James,'
Democratic FTC commissioner Mozelle Thompson said.

'Chairman Muris failed to consult with, or provide meaningful opportunity
for, other commissioners to provide any input,' Thompson added. 'This lack of
transparency makes it difficult for the other four commissioners to discharge
their obligation to determine whether consumers will actually benefit from such
a significant change at this agency.'

The plan had been to reorganize merger reviews so that all media,
telecommunications, software and games would be looked at automatically by the
DOJ and health care, energy and electricity would be given to the FTC.

But consumer advocates said the two boards handle their duties differently
because the DOJ is directly responsible to the administration, while the FTC is
an independent panel of five people, much like the Federal Communications

'The FTC's bipartisan and more independent approach has made it a more
effective mechanism to review mergers in the media industries,' said Jeff
Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

Most recently, the FTC did the antitrust review of the America Online
Inc.-Time Warner Inc. combination, and it decided to place conditions on the
deal's approval.

Sources said Senate Commerce Committee chairman Fritz
Hollings (D-S.C.) was upset that he had not been informed about the decision.
Hollings' staff failed to return phone calls by press time.

Ken Johnson, spokesman for House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Billy
Tauzin (R-La.), said, 'We were a little surprised that the administration was
moving forward with little, if any, input from Congress. If the plan is
resurrected, we certainly would like to be given an opportunity to weigh in
before the DOJ and the FTC move forward.'