Last week, MLEX released a report documenting Lina Khan’s highly abrasive management style as Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair. The MLEX report documents a workplace environment within the FTC of fear, distrust and anxiety that has driven some of the most experienced and knowledgeable FTC staffers out of the agency.
The details laid out in this report are ripe for future oversight hearings after the midterm elections.
Here are 10 ways Chair Khan’s failed leadership is leading to an FTC brain drain:
- “In a single year, respondents in that survey who said they have a “high level of respect” for the FTC’s senior leadership plummeted from 83 percent in 2020 to less than half in 2021.”
Chair Khan’s mismanagement and poor leadership has eroded respect for senior FTC leaders. What was once an agency that had overwhelming respect and confidence in its leadership has now become one that is divided. FTC Deputy Director of Public Affairs Peter Kaplan, an ally of Chair Khan, attempted to justify this data as the result of the “considerable change” that Lina Khan is bringing to the FTC. As the report proceeds to document, it becomes clear that the change sparking this reaction is not merely policy related. Rather, it is a shift from a workplace of comradery and mutual respect to one of polarization and distress.
- “In one year…the share of FTC staffers saying senior leaders generate “high levels of motivation and commitment” for staff dropped from 80 percent to 42 percent, while the share of staff who said senior leadership lacks integrity grew six-fold.”
Chair Khan may have radical ideas that excite progressive professors and think tanks, but her abrasive and detached leadership style erodes the work ethic of her staffers.
- “Current and former staffers said an agency that has traditionally allowed even rookie staff attorneys to have input into whether to bring enforcement actions has become a hierarchical, top-down organization, where even expert staffers say they feel marginalized and afraid to speak truth to power, for fear of being frozen out for not being “on board” with Khan’s mission.”
Chair Khan has created a top-down culture where expert staffers are afraid to speak out against her agenda. Instead of fostering a collaborative environment where every viewpoint is valued, Khan bolsters ideological inexperienced allies in her agency without consulting experts who have been there for decades.
- “One veteran staffer said the FTC’s leaders “are big supporters of McDonald’s and Amazon workers, but they treat the people within the commission probably as badly as McDonald’s … They ask people to work all hours — nights, weekends, [Khan’s] own staff more than anybody — no regard to people’s quality of life and what they are dealing with.”
Chair Khan claims to stick up for workers she deems marginalized but fails to instill a pro-worker culture in her own agency. According to staff, Khan has failed to create a safe and reasonable working environment for the people in their own company. True leaders lead through example. Khan is proving not to be one of them.
- “There is just a sheer lack of recognition that the FTC has a resource constraint. Everything is a priority and any pushback that this doesn’t add up — it’s like, ‘You’re not on board with us.’ That is a major, major problem,” said the manager. “People are being asked to do more and more and more and more without being properly resourced, or empowered, or motivated. There is no priority — everything is a priority. And when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.”
Chair Khan appears to demonstrate a lack of organization or focus when setting the FTC’s agenda. If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Khan’s failure to properly motivate her staff, coupled with the recent mass exodus, complicates an already rocky path for Khan’s antirust agenda.
- “The chair had an army of 1,000 dedicated attorneys who came to the FTC because they wanted to make a difference in the world, to make antitrust enforcement or consumer protection enforcement more visible and relevant, and they really believed in the mission of protecting competition and protecting consumers,” said a veteran FTC lawyer. “The chair didn’t come in and rally the troops around this mission they all believed in. Instead, she isolated herself and alienated herself. She’s going to have a hard time overcoming those failures.”
Alienating the staffers that you need to rely on to accomplish a goal does not sound like the wisest leadership approach. However, it is the exact style of leadership that Lina Khan has taken, as she expects staffers to follow her lead without any questions.
- “The agency’s productivity and effectiveness depend on an engaged career staff, and engagement grows from a culture of mutual respect, collaboration, and inclusion,” Eileen Harrington, a 27-year former FTC senior official, said at a public commission meeting on May 19. “For 40 years, this was the culture at the Federal Trade Commission, regardless of the party holding the majority. Today, it is not.”
This palpable shift in the FTC’s culture is not normal for progressive, conservative or moderate FTC chairs. The environment that Khan has created in the FTC ought to be course corrected. Otherwise, it will deter new people from joining and continue to exacerbate the mass exodus that is plaguing the FTC.
- “Starting on June 15, 2021 — Khan’s first day leading the agency housed in the Classical Revival edifice at 600 Pennsylvania Avenue — what had been a free flow of information between the chair’s office was suddenly interrupted, by what one staffer described as a “wall of silence” around the chair’s office. Staff bristled at a directive widely interpreted as a gag order forbidding them from public speaking, and some felt they were instructed to lie about being too busy as a pretext for canceling speaking engagements.”
Chair Khan wants to project an image of unity while creating an environment of division. The gag order prevented people from having their stories heard about the Khan regime. Silencing employees that have legitimate workplace concerns contributes to the stifled, top-down workplace culture Khan is fostering.
- “Essential enforcement positions, such as the permanent directors for the Bureau of Economics and the Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, remain vacant, and staffers expressed concerns that Khan is insufficiently attentive to privacy enforcement and has devalued the role of economists in bringing antitrust cases.”
Chair Khan’s radical philosophy regarding how antitrust law should be enforced is actually tying her hands from proper antitrust enforcement. Her staunch disagreement with the current role of economists in antitrust law is preventing her from using them as they have historically been used – to help try cases against firms that are harming consumers.
- Fear of reprisals and pressure for ideological loyalty have become so strong, multiple staffers said, that they’re afraid to follow the wrong person on Twitter or like a post on LinkedIn that criticizes Khan or her agenda.
Following a friend, colleague or any otherwise interesting person on Twitter or liking a post on social media should not be grounds for dismissal in a healthy, functioning workplace. This dictatorial desire for a perception of conformity sounds like an edict straight out of George Orwell’s 1984. It is wildly inappropriate for a US governmental agency to instill the fear of a totalitarian regime upon its staffers. Clearly, Lina Khan does not just have an issue with the American ideal of capitalism, she also has an issue with the American ideal of free speech.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Open Competition Center’s dive into Chair Khan’s tyrannical regime.