Re: Urgent Need for Additional Hiring and Resources in the Antitrust Division
Dear Attorney General Merrick B. Garland,
The Justice Department plays a key role in President Biden’s vision of promoting “the interests of American workers, businesses, and consumers” through increasing competition, a plan which stands to be one the most enduring legacies of this administration. Your commitment to promote “competition by fairly and vigorously enforcing the antitrust laws,” along with the confirmation of Jonathan Kanter to Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division, are crucial steps forward in this vision.
However, now more than ever, the country is struggling under the weight of rampant corporate consolidation, which harms consumers through weakened supply chains and price gouging covered up as inflation. This administration has set us on a path out of the mess with commitments to a new, all-of-government approach to competition policy and appointees ready to steer us there. But it must translate words into action quickly if it is to avoid further disaster and begin delivering tangible results. For this reason, we ask that you immediately commit to undertake the necessary hiring and to advocate vociferously for the resources the Antitrust Division needs.
As it stands, the DOJ Antitrust Division does not have either the full leadership team or resources it needs to fully act out the Biden’s administration’s plans. On January 4, The Information reported that Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter only had two of twelve deputies and advisors in place almost two months after he was confirmed to lead the division and a year after President Biden’s inauguration. Yet the Department has not acted with urgency to address the shortfalls. There is no indication that the Department is moving quickly to identify and recruit candidates committed to the Biden-Kanter vision to these roles. Meanwhile, qualified candidates who have reportedly been identified for some of the openings have not been brought on board. Without a fully-staffed leadership team, the Antitrust Division will struggle to effectively realize President Biden’s competition agenda.
Adequate numbers alone, however, are not enough. It is critical that the Department also fill these vacancies with officials who are demonstrably committed to tackling corporate consolidation, in line with this administration’s priorities. At least one of the candidates under consideration, Sonia Pfaffenroth, has demonstrated no such commitment. On the contrary, Pfaffenroth’s career has been marked by apathy to the ills of concentration at best, and outright defense of corporate monopolies at worst. During the brief time in which Pfaffenroth worked for the DOJ Antitrust Division, she approved disastrous mergers in the airline and beverage industries, among others. At the law firm Arnold & Porter, where Pfaffenroth has spent the lion’s share of her career, she has defended pharmaceutical, fossil fuel, and mining monopolies, to name a few. After decades of rampant consolidation, we need fierce advocates who will fight to turn the tide, not architects of the old status quo.
The Antitrust Division also needs greater capacity at the staff-level to quickly reinvigorate antitrust enforcement across the economy. Both the Biden administration and legislators have recognized the yawning gap between the division’s resources and the scope of its responsibilities and have proposed increasing the Division’s budget. Previous versions of Build Back Better, in particular, included $500 million in new funding for the Division over the next 10 years. Now, however, the contents, timing, and ultimate fate of that landmark bill is uncertain. As it attempts to charge ahead on major enforcement actions and keep pace with a merger boom, the Division cannot afford to wait for these resources. Congress must include these funds in its upcoming agreement to fund the government past February 18. As the foremost representative for your department, it is incumbent upon you to advocate before Congress for these desperately needed resources.
Beating back the forces of consolidation is a formidable challenge. Corporate concentration is spawning crises in practically every industry, with fearsome effects for workers, consumers, and our democracy. Even with limited resources, the Antitrust Division has already taken admirable steps to tackle Big Tech monopolies. But that will not be enough to meet the task that the Biden administration has set for it. The division must have the leadership and resources it needs to pursue concentration in every industry under its jurisdiction – whether that’s shipping in cooperation with the Federal Maritime Commission, banking with the financial regulators, or any number of others – just as vigorously. We ask that you fight with the required urgency to secure those resources.
American Economic Liberties Project
American Family Voices
Americans for Financial Reform Ed Fund
Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment
The Freedom BLOC
Future of Music Coalition
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Institute for Local Self-Reliance
National Family Farm Coalition
Private Equity Stakeholder Project
People’s Parity Project
Revolving Door Project
20/20 Vision DC
Professor Rosemary Batt, in her individual capacity