Last week, the Federal Trade Commission announced a series of reforms to the procedures of the Bureau of Consumer Protection that are intended to streamline information requests and improve transparency in Commission investigations. According to the FTC, the reforms are intended “to further the agency’s mission to protect consumers and promote competition without unduly burdening legitimate business activity.”

The transparency and streamlining measures announced this week grows out of the Commission’s creation, in April, of new internal Working Groups on Agency Reform and Efficiency, which were formed “to improve processes and focus resources where they will do the most good for the public.” At the time it was announced, the Reform and Efficiency initiative was described as intended to help “aggressively” implement the Trump Administration’s directives to “eliminate wasteful, legacy regulations and processes that “create significant burdens on the public, while diverting scarce resources from the agency’s core mission to protect consumers and promote competition.” As part of the initiative, Ohlhausen directed the Bureau of Consumer Protection to identify best practices to streamline information requests and improve transparency in investigations.

The process reforms announced this week address Civil Investigative Demands that the Commission issues in consumer protection cases. They include:

  • Providing plain language descriptions of the CID process and developing business education materials to help small businesses understand how to comply;
  • Adding more detailed descriptions of the scope and purpose of investigations to give companies a better understanding of the information the agency seeks;
  • Where appropriate, limiting the relevant time periods to minimize undue burden on companies;
  • Where appropriate, significantly reducing the length and complexity of CID instructions for providing electronically stored data; and
  • Where appropriate, increasing response times for CIDs (for example, often 21 days to 30 days for targets, and 14 days to 21 days for third parties) to improve the quality and timeliness of compliance by recipients.

The announcement also clarifies the Bureau’s intention to continue its current practice of communicating with investigation targets concerning the status of investigations at least every six months after they comply with the CID. It also indicates that more internal reforms are being considered to further address industry and legislative concerns about the investigational burdens on legitimate companies.