Spotlight: FTC

Which federal agency’s headquarters is housed in a structure whose cornerstone was laid with the same silver trowel that President George Washington used to lay the cornerstone of  the U.S. Capitol in 1793?  Since 1938, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been headquartered in the Apex Building—so named because it sits at the apex of Washington, D.C.’s Federal Triangle—at 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.

President Woodrow Wilson established the FTC on September 26, 1914, by signing the Federal Trade Commission Act, which transformed the Bureau of Corporations—part of the Commerce Department—into a five-member, independent agency with new enforcement powers.  The mission of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is to prevent business practices that are anticompetitive, deceptive, or unfair to consumers, as well as to enhance informed consumer choice and public understanding of the competitive process.  Today, the FTC is the only federal agency with both consumer protection and competition jurisdiction in broad sectors of the economy.  It pursues law enforcement efforts; advances consumers’ interests by sharing its expertise with federal and state legislatures and other U.S. and international government agencies; develops policy and research tools through hearings, workshops, and conferences; and creates educational programs for consumers and businesses.  One of its best-known programs is the National Do Not Call Registry, which helps consumers limit the number of telemarketing calls they receive.

The FTC’s work is performed by its Bureaus of Consumer Protection, Competition, and Economics, as well as by its Office of the General Counsel and eight regional offices—in Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle—serving seven geographic regions (the Western Region is served by two offices).  It is staffed by more than 1,100 civil service employees, and its total new budget authority for FY 2011 was $292 million.  It supplements its Apex Building headquarters by leasing 276,000 square feet of satellite office space at two additional Washington, D.C., locations (601 New Jersey Avenue, NW, and 1800 M Street, NW) and a 22,000-square-foot warehouse in Landover, Md.

As he lay the cornerstone for the Apex Building with that historic silver trowel in 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt remarked, “May this permanent home of the Federal Trade Commission stand for all time as a symbol of the purpose of the government to insist on a greater application of the golden rule to conduct the corporation and business enterprises in their relationship to the body politic.”  Just how permanent that home will be has been in doubt since at least 2005, when Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., now chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, first proposed relocating the FTC offices to more efficient, modern office space elsewhere and transforming the Apex Building into an annex for the National Gallery of Art, which sits directly across Constitution Avenue.