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The merger wave is over and business-friendly Republicans are running the government, but that doesn’t mean the Federal Trade Commission has gone to sleep. Not with Timothy Muris at the helm. A former George Mason University law professor with deft public policy instincts, Muris, 52, has kept things lively at the agency by focusing on consumer protection and nonmerger antitrust enforcement. “We’ve done a lot in 18 months, and there’s a lot more to do,” he says with zeal. The activity contrasts sharply with the FTC’s historic rival, the Antitrust Division at the Department of Justice, where head Charles James resigned in October after 15 months on the job without ever quite living down the Microsoft settlement. Muris’ credentials for running the FTC are impeccable — during the Reagan administration, he headed two of the agency’s bureaus, first consumer protection and then competition. “Certainly his intellectual capabilities are highly regarded,” says Nicholas Koberstein, who left the FTC last month to join the D.C. office of McDermott, Will & Emery as a partner. “Nobody questions his capability and commitment.” Muris’ focus on competition in health care and pharmaceuticals has won him newspaper headlines and praise from overseers in Congress. Currently, the agency is investigating “a variety of consummated [hospital] mergers,” Muris confirms, and may even attempt to unscramble the proverbial egg by breaking up some of the merged entities. The move comes despite the fact that the government is 0 for 7 in challenging hospital mergers prior to consummation. “I think some of the court decisions were wrong,” he says. The FTC is gathering data on whether hospital mergers have resulted in price increases or other competitive harm, though Muris declines to predict when any cases might be brought. To Albert Foer, president of the American Antitrust Institute, Muris’ focus on health care is both shrewd and praiseworthy. “He’s recognized that health care is a very important pocketbook issue. It’s got political salience, and there’s a lot to be done,” Foer says. “He’s putting real resources into this area.” In part, Muris is able to launch such initiatives because the number of mergers for agency lawyers to review has fallen dramatically. In fiscal year 2002, merger filings were down 50 percent compared with 2001. “We have a lot more flexibility in pursuing nonmerger projects than [former FTC Chairman] Bob [Pitofsky], who was so overwhelmed by the merger wave,” Muris says. But such activism has “surprised the bar,” says William MacLeod, a partner at Collier Shannon Scott, where Muris was of counsel from 1992 to 2000. “He has provided a positive agenda that would not be a surprise to those who saw him at the agency 20 years ago, but is very different from the typical, conservative regulator.” Still, there is a widespread sense that Muris, a 2000 Bush/Cheney campaign veteran, enjoys a close relationship with the White House — a perception he does not dispute. Muris has also devoted substantial attention to the agency’s consumer protection mission. “I like consumer protection. My sense is, I do spend more time on it” than previous chairmen, he says. Currently, the FTC is in the news for pushing a “Do Not Call” registry that would allow consumers to block telemarketers’ calls. Muris describes it as “one of the most visible things the agency has ever done.” Telemarketers have vowed a fierce legal battle against the initiative. In 2003, Muris says the FTC will also attempt to crack down on spam, the ubiquitous junk e-mail, although he acknowledges it is difficult to regulate. “Most telemarketers are legitimate businesses. They’ll comply with the law, and we can find them,” he says. The same cannot be said of many spammers. “I don’t object to a ‘Do Not Spam’ list, but I’m not sure how effective it would be,” he says. Overall, Muris says he is relishing his tenure as chairman. “This is the job I really wanted,” he says, putting to rest long-standing rumors that he would have preferred running the Office of Management and Budget, where he also worked under President Ronald Reagan. “I’m a lucky guy.”

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