The Federal Trade Commission faces a “mortal threat” from the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, former Federal Trade Commission chairman Timothy Muris said during a panel discussion today. He suggested that agency leaders selectively criticize the rival agency publicly and privately.

“I fear for the FTC,” said Muris, chairman of the agency from 2001 to 2004 and now of counsel to Kirkland & Ellis and a professor at George Mason University School of Law.

Braving a snowstorm that shut down the rest of Washington, Muris and former chairmen Jon Leibowitz and James Miller III spoke at an event sponsored by the Law & Economics Center at George Mason University School of Law marking the FTC’s 100th birthday.

Muris noted that the FTC and the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division share jurisdiction over competition law, and the FTC and consumer protection bureau share consumer protection oversight.

Sooner or later, Muris predicted, an entity such as the Hoover Commission, which in the late 1940s was charged with recommending administrative changes in the federal government, is going to take a hard look at the FTC and its rivals. “They’ll sit down and see two functions and three agencies,” he said.

The Antitrust Division is safe because it’s part of the administration, not an independent agency like the FTC, he said. The CFPB, he said, has “such a big budget and incredible powers. … It’s a long-term threat to the FTC.”

As for what the trade commission can do about it, Muris acknowledged that “Obviously it’s difficult—the chairwoman [Edith Ramirez] can’t criticize another Obama appointee.”

Still, he said, FTC officials could point out things like the agency’s fraud program that “give it an advantage over the CFPB.” And, he said, FTC officials can “criticize publicly and privately the CFPB.”

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