At last week’s House hearing into the practices of Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Lina Khan, she fulsomely praised her staffers, saying “none of this work would have been possible without the extraordinary efforts of the FTC staff.” However, at today’s House Appropriations subcommittee hearing, Khan’s insincerity towards workers was exposed in a way that further damaged her reputation as FTC Chair.
Congressman John Moolenaar (R-Mich.) finally took Khan to task for various surveys that demonstrate a stark decline in leadership effectiveness and staff confidence in leadership. Rep. Moolenaar entered a recent study on FTC morale from the Phoenix Center into the Congressional record, which you should read here.
Khan responded by saying she takes the concerns “seriously” and repeated that without them it would be “impossible” for the FTC to do their work. She then added that she would be “putting in better processes” and “streamlining processes” saying that all of these processes were “under way and…is having results inside.” Eighteen months ago, Khan responded to a similar question saying that she is “doing the best [she] can to make sure that information is available” to staffers and was “always thinking about ways that we can improve our processes going forward.” Khan’s “best” is clearly insufficient, as staffers do not seem to believe things are improving at the rate that Khan would want us to believe. Khan’s statements today about workers precisely parallel what Khan said last year. Unfortunately, workers also feel the exact same way proving that “the results” that Khan’s new processes are having no impact on staff morale, with it even decreasing in some instances.
Since Khan has taken over the FTC, numerous surveys and reports have documented a consistent, troubling pattern of dismay among workers within the agency. Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Partnership for Public Service found in their annual Best Places to Work survey that the agency remains one of the worst places to work in the federal government. However, with a great level of specificity, the results indicate that the problems primarily result from the abysmal leadership approach that Khan’s tenure as chair has brought upon the agency.
The Open Competition Center has thoroughly documented the FTC staff morale issue since Khan took the helm. Click here to read our post from 2022 walking through last year’s Best Places to Work survey.
The Best Places to Work survey finds that the Federal Trade Commission is the 7th worst place to work out of 27 midsize agencies with a 2022 Engagement and Satisfaction Score of 67.3. It also finds that the FTC’s staffers gave their senior leaders the second worst scores for the effectiveness of their leadership, marking a noticeable decrease in the score from last year, suggesting that Khan’s tenure has only gotten worse. The survey distinguishes senior leaders, such as Khan and her fellow commissioners, from the direct supervisors of the staffers. Even though the staffers view their senior leaders poorly, they actually gave higher scores to the effectiveness of their direct supervisors than any other FTC agency. Thus, most of the issues that staffers have with agency leadership comes from senior leaders, such as the commissioners, not the immediate supervisors of the staffers.
If you would like to take a deeper dive into these numbers, the aforementioned Phoenix Center study that was entered in the Congressional Record compiles all this data and details the results for the Federal Trade Commission writ large.
The FTC’s overall score in the Best Place To Work rankings is only slightly boosted by higher scores within the subdivisions of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection (72.1), Office of the Executive Director (80.3), and Regions (75.4). The one division that considerably tanked the overall score came from the FTC’s Bureau of Competition’s 2022 Engagement Score, which was a disastrously low 57.3. Lina Khan may be a bad boss generally, but she is a particularly bad boss to staffers working on antitrust issues.
The most jarring results reveal that the biggest declines within the agency have come from measurements of the effectiveness of their leadership within the subdivision. In 2020, they reached an impressive height of 85.8. In 2021, they dropped astronomically to 37.6. In 2022, the score has hit an all-time low of 30.5. These results rank the senior leaders of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition as the 4th least effective subdivision in the 432 federal subcomponent agencies polled. In contrast, the direct supervisors are ranked as the 22nd best across all 432 subdivisions, with an incredible score of 92.2. It also suggests that Khan’s leadership has gotten less effective and more problematic if one could even conceive of that possibility.
These results will shock no observers of Khan’s tenure as chair. Khan’s agency mismanagement has already been documented to actively contribute to 99 senior-level career attorneys, including 71 senior attorneys at the top of the federal government pay scale, leaving the agency between 2021-2022. These attorneys had invaluable institutional experience and will prove quite difficult for the agency to replace. That news did not come as a surprise either as the two most recent Federal Employee Viewpoint surveys have indicated that just under half of employees “believe that senior leaders maintain high standards of honesty and integrity.” Additionally, in an eye-opening MLEX report released in 2021, FTC staffers characterized Khan’s leadership as “tyrannical” and “abusive.” Based on the data, these sentiments seem not to have changed considerably.
This pattern is growing less surprising and more alarming as it continues to corrode the institution’s reputation. Congress needs to hold more hearings on this matter so that Khan is held fully accountable for these demonstrative leadership failures and investigate to identify the root of these consistent complaints.