"Better than Ever."
Normally, it's the Federal Trade Commission's role to monitor these advertising claims for their accuracy.
But yesterday it was FTC Chairman James C. Miller III who was making these claims -- about his one-year stewardship of the controversial commission.
"We have made strong progress in getting away from the notion of national nannyism and Star-Trek law enforcement where the bold go where no man has dared to go before," Miller said in releasing a report card on his agency's actions during his year as chairman.
Disputing criticism that he has tried to cripple the agency by bringing few new cases and by seeking legislation to curb the agency's authority, Miller contended that, if anything, the agency has become more effective under his leadership because it has placed "more emphasis on the prosecution of cases, and less on the development of new rules."
As a sign that the commission has not been inactive, Miller noted that during the past year the agency has opened 364 investigations, issued eight complaints, accepted 28 consent agreements and obtained civil penalty orders, judgments and consumer redress in 17 cases.
But just as all advertising claims are subjected to scrutiny by a product's critics, Miller's also came under immediate attack, with commission officials and consumer advocates charging that they were misleading and often inaccurate.
"If the agency is not paralyzed, it remains afflicted with that condition which Lincoln diagnosed in his generals as 'the slows,' " commented FTC Commissioner Michael Pertschuk, who chaired the agency during the Carter administration.
"The truth is that until recent weeks the chairman has been preoccupied with lopping off the commission's regional offices, which are our most efficient units in producing cases, advancing radical legislative proposals for restructuring and weakening the commission's authority, and unleashing its conservative economists to engage in endless and esoteric analytical debate -- truly paralyzing the commission's enforcement initiatives," Pertschuk said.
Several commission officials noted that the bulk of the cases Miller takes credit for were initiated -- and almost completed -- before Miller assumed his post at the FTC. Additionally, they note, the agency's bureau of consumer protection still has a heavy backlog of cases, including at least nine proposed industry-wide trade rules that have been under consideration for years.
Yet, Pertschuk noted, "If he overstates his accomplishments, that is also a time-honored commission tradition."
In releasing his report card, Miller acknowledged that all "has not been a bed of roses" for him at the commission.
Among his defeats:
* Miller and the White House have failed to get Congress to confirm a candidate to the FTC's fifth seat, making it impossible for Miller to command a majority on the commission. One FTC nominee withdrew after it was clear there were not enough votes on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee to favorably report his nomination. Another nominee is pending before the committee, but committee Democrats, supporting another candidate, have indicated they may try to block his nomination.
* Congress has refused to allow Miller to close any of the agency's 10 regional offices. Miller wanted to close all of them, but after the commission balked at this plan, he agreed to a compromise that would have closed four -- a compromise that has not been accepted by Congress.
* The commission's 3-to-1 vote to issue a rule requiring funeral directors to disclose more information about their prices and services to potential customers. Miller argued that there was insufficient evidence to support a rule and vowed yesterday to fight it in Congress, which can veto FTC rules by a majority vote in both houses.
* The lack of business and congressional support for his proposal to relax the agency's oversight of deceptive advertising.
Miller may also face another defeat soon -- but one that also would be a defeat for consumer groups who don't usually find themselves on Miller's side. The American Medical Association is trying to get Congress to bar the FTC from regulating price-fixing, anti-competitive and unfair acts by doctors, lawyers and other professions, and Miller said he is concerned that the AMA may well succeed when Congress returns after the recess.
"The legacy of an agency that has misbehaved" -- a legacy Miller says he has inherited and not one to which he has contributed -- makes his attempt to defeat AMA's proposal "extraordinarily difficult," Miller said.
More than anything else, Miller told reporters yesterday, he wants to change that legacy during his tenure at the FTC. "There is not the trust and respect for this agency that I want to have here," he said. "As hokey as it may sound, I want my grandchildren to say that my granddaddy was chairman of the FTC and be proud of that."