Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Lina Khan’s lack of management experience continues to result in disastrous consequences within the FTC. An already vast, but still growing, number of FTC staff members are opting to leave the agency in light of Chair Khan’s leadership style that FTC personnel are labeling as “abusive” and “tyrannical.”
One of the major gripes that staffers have had internally with Chair Khan’s leadership since the start of her tenure is her refusal to meet with them. Instead, she is taking guidance from neo-Brandeisian legal professors that share her vision for moving FTC enforcement towards radical legal theories that expand antitrust law beyond the consumer welfare standard. This refusal to listen to attorneys that have actual experience practicing the exact cases that Khan wants to pursue during her tenure is leading to internal frustration and a brain drain within the agency.
These critics are not isolated FTC employees. Rather, they reflect a widespread trend of hostility towards Khan’s leadership. In the latest Federal Employee Viewpoint (FEV) survey, the number of respondents “who said they have a ‘high level of respect for the FTC’s senior leadership plummeted from 83 percent in 2020 to 40 percent in 2021.” Additionally, the percentage of staffers that “said senior leadership lacks integrity” increased from 4.1 percent in 2020 to 28.8 percent in 2021. The dissatisfaction rate amongst FTC employees grew by five times.
FTC Deputy Director of Public Affairs Peter Kaplan attempted to justify this radical decline in respect as the result of the “considerable change” that Khan brought to the agency. However, the change that FTC employees report is one in which they are “marginalized” and “not able to speak truth to power.”
Considerable change that reeks of a hostile work environment is unjustifiable.
Senior staffers have attested to the existence of that exact environment. One staffer, who actually agrees with Khan’s radical agenda, went as far as to say that despite the leadership being, “big supporters of McDonald’s and Amazon workers…they treat the people within the commission probably as badly as McDonald’s…[with] no regard to people’s quality of life and what they are dealing with.” This problem is not a partisan issue reflecting an internal disagreement in direction. Instead, it is a widespread acknowledgement from staffers on all sides of the aisle that Khan’s mismanagement and toxic leadership approach is draining workers. The staffer went on to explain that “the way to fix [enforcement] is not to ruin an agency…[by] driving out the most experienced members of our team and browbeating everyone into submission where everyone just hides and waits.”
Khan is attempting to dictate how attorneys should apply and interpret the law, despite her own lack of any courtroom experience. Instead of taking time to learn and work alongside FTC career staffers, she is treating them with a dismissive attitude. Khan may have attained great popularity in progressive circles based on her bold, radical plans to weaponize antitrust law to take down big businesses for their “crime” of being successful. But this popularity has also apparently given her a delusional sense of superiority over those who have been working in the FTC since she was learning her multiplication tables.
One of the higher profile departures has come from Office of International Affairs Director Randy Tritell, who will be leaving the FTC after 24 years of service. To put this number in context, Tritell started working at the FTC when his new boss was only nine years old. Tritell has joined over 40 career FTC employees that have left the agency.
As Khan is requesting more funds and employees for the FTC, her own actions are driving away the considerable resources that are already at her disposal. Even with more funds, Khan will likely find it difficult to attract talent based on her increasingly toxic reputation as FTC chair. Ironically, Khan’s animosity for the talent that she needs to help her on her ambitious mission to weaponize antitrust law will sabotage her radical agenda.