The Federal Trade Commission has split into two increasingly divided camps, with disputes raging over everything from regulatory issues to the staffing needs of the commissioners.
Earlier this year the two sides fought over the proposed closing of several of the agency's regional offices. Now the battle is joined over what agency spokesmen say is a routine staff realignment, but what others see as an attempt to strip two members appointed by President Carter of some of their powers.
In the latest dispute, FTC Commissioners Patricia P. Bailey and Michael Pertschuk are balking at Chairman James C. Miller III's decision to transfer the responsibility for reviewing adjudicatory motions and quashing subpoenas from their offices to the offices of Miller and George W. Douglas, a recent addition to the commission.
Along with the powers, Miller shifted one staff position each from Bailey's and Pertschuk's offices to his and Douglas' offices. And there's the rub.
"No commissioner should be able to interfere with the staff of another commissioner," Bailey said. "That's an important principle." Bailey said the staff reduction--which leaves her and Pertschuk with three staffers apiece--will affect her ability to do her job effectively.
"The size of the staff that I have now is absolutely essential to me," she said. The other three commissioners declined to comment.
An FTC spokesman said, however, that each commissioner traditionally has three staffers. She added that the assignment of powers is the chairman's prerogative, and that the shifts made last week were routine.
But sources sympathetic to the dissenting commissioners disagreed. Traditionally, they said, the two junior commissioners are responsible for adjudicatory motions and subpoena-quashing, and get the additional staff to do those jobs.
Under that tradition, Douglas would get the power to control FTC investigations by moving to quash subpoenas, but Bailey would be allowed to oversee procedural and substantive motions in FTC cases and recommend their disposition to the full commission. The sources said it is highly unusual for one of those jobs to be given to the chairman's office.
The sources also noted that the shift will mean that two of the commission's most important legal functions are being transferred from lawyers, Bailey and Pertschuk, to two commissioners with no legal background. Miller and Douglas are economists.
Some agency observers see the move as an attempt by Miller and Douglas, who represent the conservative side of the commission, to reduce the power of Pertschuk and Bailey, who tend to dissent from the chairman's positions.
"It's the concentration of the power and the staff in the chairman's office and the office of his trusted commissioner, at the expense of the dissenters," one source said.
"It's really the antithesis of the way a collegial body should operate," another source said. "It was an extraordinary and unprecedented action . . . . To our knowledge, no chairman has ever unilaterally stripped one commissioner of these powers and given them to another."
The source suggested that "the purpose of it seemed to be to take some retribution" against Bailey and Pertschuk. Miller, this source theorized, is upset not only at dissent in general, but at the outcome of a recent battle in which the commission's factions battled to a compromise over the reduction of the FTC's field staff.
In the compromise, Miller, who had wanted to abolish four of the commission's 10 regional offices and many of the offices' 222 positions, had to settle for keeping all 10 open, but with a reduction of 53 positions. Hardest-hit was the New York office, cut from 39 staffers to 18, and the Chicago office, cut from 34 to 18. Termination notices went out this week.
An FTC spokesman said the agency will try to transfer many of the employes to other regional offices or to Washington.
Sources say the outcome of the regional-office squabble, which followed long negotiations with congressional committees overseeing the FTC's funding, was a political defeat for Miller.
"The Congress has now clearly and unequivocably told him he has to keep open all 10 offices," one source said.
Although the dissenting commissioners are not pleased with the cuts in the regional offices, saying they will gut the commission's investigative and enforcement powers, they also say they're satisfied with the compromise.
As for their own staffing problem, Bailey and Pertschuk are talking about taking some action, perhaps by getting friends on Capitol Hill to intervene.