The House Judiciary Committee’s top Republican Thursday said the committee will investigate recent watchdog findings over the Federal Trade Commission’s use of unpaid consultants and experts, and instructed the agency to preserve digital records.
In a letter sent Thursday to FTC Chair Lina Khan and the agency’s other commissioners, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-OH., said the committee will probe allegations that the FTC may have relied on “unpaid and unaccountable” consultants to perform core functions, and requested the agency stop the destruction or alteration of any electronic information relevant to the inquiry.
“Based on a recent report from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Office of Inspector General (OIG), the FTC seems to be flouting federal law to rely on unpaid and unaccountable consultants … [I]nternal documents show that these officials are likely performing work that should be done by FTC staff,” he said in the missive, which was exclusively obtained by FedScoop.
The senior lawmaker emphasized that the House committee will scrutinize the OIG’s audit and the use of non-FTC employees to perform agency functions.
Federal regulations, including from the Office of Management and Budget permit the use of consultants by federal agencies but impose restrictions on the type of work such contractors may undertake.
“You should construe this preservation notice as an instruction to take all reasonable steps to prevent the destruction or alteration, whether intentionally or negligently, of all documents, communications, and other information, including electronic information and metadata, that are or may be responsive to this congressional inquiry. This instruction includes all electronic messages sent using your official and personal accounts or devices, including records created using text messages, phone-based message applications, or encryption software,” Jordan wrote in the letter.
The inquiry marks one of the first instances since a recent Secret Service text message deletion scandal related to the Jan.6th Capitol attack in which the GOP has called on a federal agency and its leadership to preserve all digital records.
The Republican lawmaker’s questions focus on on whether the FTC may have improperly used consultants and experts to drive a Democratic agenda. Jordan has requested that the agency respond to the missive with requested information by Sept. 8.
The letter from House Republicans follows a report from the FTC’s Inspector General earlier this month that highlighted the use of consultants and unpaid experts by the regulator.
The watchdog at the time found the agency had no clear process for recruiting or integrating unpaid consultants and experts and recommended the agency adopt policies within 60 days for when it will make use of unpaid workers.
“The agency has leveraged unpaid consultants and experts during previous administrations; however, current FTC leadership has expanded their use,” the FTC OIG said in its audit. The report does not say whether the FTC had violated federal laws, but points out that the agency’s handbook and Office of Management and Budget regulations prevent government departments from using consultants to replace full-time employees.
Rep. Jordan’s strongly worded request for the FTC to preserve all electronic records, including from cell phones and personal devices comes amid intense scrutiny on federal government agencies regarding digital record archiving in recent weeks.
Earlier this month, FedScoop reported on concerns raised by former senior agency officials over the collection and preservation of such records following the deletion of text messages relating to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot by the Secret Service.
The FTC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.