FTC Should Process Consent Orders More Quickly

HRD-79-94: Published: Jun 13, 1979. Publicly Released: Jun 13, 1979.

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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) processes consent orders, which are legally binding promises by businesses to stop or correct certain acts or practices. The consent order review and approval process begins when FTC staff and a business sign an agreement to settle an alleged violation of a law which FTC enforces. The agreement then goes through levels of review within FTC. The agreement must also go through a public comment period before final approval. A review was made of 116 of the consent orders which became final between October 1, 1976, and January 31, 1979.

The average processing time for the 116 orders reviewed was about 323 days. Lengthy review and approval timeframes can have several adverse effects: (1) the business does not have to obey a consent order until FTC finalizes it; (2) if the business agrees to give redress to consumers, inflation during lengthy delays can reduce the value of any refunds; and (3) the alternatives to accepting the agreement may be compromised because evidence may become stale or FTC may be reluctant to spend more resources on the case. Although FTC set time standards for two steps in the five-part processing, the standards have not been enforced.

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