Trump FTC Chief Vows to Review Criticism of Lax Deal Enforcement

  • Simons touts his record bringing anticompetitive conduct cases
  • Senate considering slate of four candidates for FTC seats

President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Federal Trade Commission said the agency needs to determine whether it has been too hands-off in letting mergers through, vowing a review of whether antitrust enforcement should get tougher.

Joseph Simons, a lawyer at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, said in response to questions from the Senate Commerce Committee that there are "significant concerns" that U.S. antitrust officials have been too permissive in merger reviews, leading to higher prices and reduced consumer choice.

"Addressing these concerns is critical, as they lie at the heart of the agency’s competition mission," Simons wrote. "The FTC needs to devote substantial resources to determine whether its merger enforcement has been too lax, and if that’s the case, the agency needs to determine the reason for such failure and to fix it."

Trump nominated Simons, 59, to replace Acting Chairwoman Maureen Ohlhausen to lead to the five-member agency, which also enforces consumer-protection laws and anticompetitive conduct by companies. The other nominees are Republicans Noah Phillips and Christine Wilson and Democrat Rohit Chopra. Trump hasn’t picked someone for the second Democratic seat.

Simons would take over an agency at time of rising criticism from some observers, particularly Democrats, that lax antitrust enforcement is to blame for evidence of increasing concentration across the economy and that enforcers should take a tougher stand against mergers to protect consumers.

In his responses to the Commerce Committee, Simons said the FTC needs to reduce the failure rate of merger settlements in which assets are sold to resolve competition problems. He also touted his previous stint at the agency when he ran the competition bureau during the George W. Bush administration. The FTC brought more enforcement actions against anticompetitive conduct than in any comparable period two decades before or since, he said.

The last significant monopolization case was the Justice Department’s lawsuit against Microsoft Corp. in 1998 for trying to stamp out competition to its operating system posed by Netscape. The FTC investigated Google for its search practices, but closed that inquiry in 2013 without bringing a case.

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