Joshua Wright headshot

Professor of Law
Antonin Scalia Law School

Joshua D. Wright is University Professor and the Executive Director of the Global Antitrust Institute at Scalia Law School at George Mason University. In 2013, the Senate unanimously confirmed Professor Wright as a member of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), following his nomination by President Obama.

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Is the FTC Moving to the National Gallery of Art?

The Federal Trade Commissioners have posted a letter to Congressmen John Mica and Nick Rahall, members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, “in response to legislative action by the Committee to transfer the historic FTC Building to the National Gallery of Art.”  I had not heard about any planned legislative action to move the FTC to the National Gallery of Art and thought this might be of interest to our readers.

I’ve copied the Commissioners’ letter below:

Dear Chairman Mica and Ranking Member Rahall:

As the bipartisan Commissioners of the Federal Trade Commission, we write to state respectfully our strong opposition to efforts to remove the FTC from the historic FTC Building to transfer it to the National Gallery of Art. Forcing the FTC out of its federally-owned headquarters would displace our agency from a building that it has continuously occupied since it was designed and built for us over 70 years ago. Since 1938, the FTC Building, located at 600 Pennsylvania, NW, in Washington, D.C., has served as the FTC’s headquarters, housing management, administrative, and adjudicative functions. The building is currently home to approximately 700 people who support the FTC’s missions of protecting American consumers and maintaining competition in the American marketplace.

More critically, a forced move of the FTC could impose additional costs on the American taxpayer from the need to replicate important functions of the FTC Building in a new building. As major examples, the FTC would have to build new courtrooms for conducting adjudications as well as replace its extensive information technology infrastructure, including infrastructure for tracking, investigating, and fighting online and offline fraud.

Yet another significant cost could be for securing more space for the federal government. This would include finding new space for a federal agency that might be displaced by the FTC’s move into a building that the other agency occupies or plans to occupy. And the taxpayers would still have to pay for the maintenance of the FTC Building. While we understand that the National Gallery’s existing buildings were paid for with private funds, monies are appropriated annually for the National Gallery’s operation and maintenance. Thus, even if the National Gallery were to use private funds to remodel the FTC Building for its own use, taxpayers apparently would be responsible for maintenance and operations of yet another National Gallery building (the FTC Building, which the legislation proposes to rename National Gallery of Art-North).

In addition, it is not clear to us the impact of the proposed legislation on historic preservation. The FTC Building is part of the Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site, which is registered under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. As such, the building’s exterior and countless features of its interior are protected by that Act and its procedures. This includes the building’s iconic man and horse statues, entitled “Man Controlling Trade.”

When laying the cornerstone for the FTC building in 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt said “[m]ay this permanent home of the Federal Trade Commission stand for all time as a symbol of the purpose of the Government to insist on a greater application of the Golden Rule to the conduct of corporations and business enterprises in the relationship to the body politic.” It is our hope that the building’s dedicated purpose can continue to be honored.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter.

More detail is available here.  Representative Mica was apparently not swayed by the pleas of the Commissioners, observing that “It would spoil the view for the five commissioners, and they are upset because they have one of the best views of the Capitol.”  The bill (HR 690) apparently was approved by the committee today by voice vote.

Here is the the House analysis purporting to support its claim of $540 in taxpayer savings from kicking the Commission out of 600 Pennsylvania in favor of the National Gallery (who would apparently raise $200 million for renovations).

Filed under: antitrust, federal trade commission