Since becoming chair of the Federal Trade Commission, Lina Khan has frequently bemoaned the “scare resources” that she has at her disposal. However, recent reporting reflects that Khan’s resources are only growing scarcer, but this time it has nothing to do with congressional funding and everything to do with Khan’s mismanagement. Khan’s agency mismanagement has actively contributed 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.
Evidence suggests that this brain drain results from the inadequacy of Khan’s own leadership approach. While some of these departures result from planned retirements, over 70% of the departures were unplanned. The current pace of departure within a two-year period exceeds the rate for any similar two-year periods since 2000. This brain drain is not a coincidental phenomenon. Rather, it is a result of years of stubborn episodes of agency mismanagement driven by the various leadership failures incurred throughout Khan’s tenure at the agency.
For example, a 2022 employee viewpoint survey reflected that “just under half of FTC employees believe senior leaders maintain high standards of honesty and integrity.” Two years ago, that figure was at 87%. This data remains consistent with the 2021 viewpoint survey, which was supplemented by an eye-opening MLEX report in which FTC staffers characterized Khan’s leadership as “tyrannical” and “abusive.” Other reports suggest similar inner-agency animosity towards Khan’s tenure. For example, Khan wants to increase the workload on her staffers to accomplish her politically-driven agenda, but she prioritizes the unethical advise of third party consultants over experienced agency staffers.
The loss of this many high-ranking agency officials is unprecedented and according to former Bureau of Consumer Protection deputy director Daniel Kaufman, it is also potentially catastrophic. It is impossible to quickly hire new attorneys to replace these senior level officials. The government previously paid these officials so well because they contain experience and institutional memory that plays a crucial role in assisting with agency work. Simply hiring more attorneys will not remedy the experience gaps caused by these dramatic levels of departures.
This self-created resource degradation crisis should cause legislators to look at Khan’s requests for additional funding with a skeptical eye. If Khan lacks the ability to use her current resources effectively, it would be foolhardy to give her a large swath of more taxpayer dollars to attain more resources, which she would presumably use with similar levels of ineffectiveness.