The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) lacks the statutory authority to appoint and oversee an independent, third-party governing board for the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF), FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras has told a House subcommittee chairman.
``Congress would need to enact new legislation granting the commission the necessary statutory authority to undertake such a task,'' Ms. Majoras said in her Dec. 22 letter to Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Trade Protection.
However, Ms. Majoras also praised the idea of a voluntary, industry-based governing board in her letter to Rep. Stearns.
``The commission has recognized for decades the important role that effective self-regulations can play and has worked with many industry groups to develop robust self-regulatory initiatives,'' she said.
Rep. Stearns had requested the FTC's input last Nov. 10 during a hearing on the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act. Negotiators on both sides had failed to reach a non-legislative solution to the question of how to ensure that independent auto repair shops obtain all the repair and diagnostic information they need from auto manufacturers. Rep. Stearns had hoped that the possibility of a FTC-sanctioned, independent NASTF governing board would help to break the impasse.
Co-sponsored by 77 members of the House, the Right to Repair Act would create criminal sanctions against auto makers that failed to provide the same repair and diagnostic information and tools to independent garages as to their own dealers. Most of the auto aftermarket, including the Tire Industry Association (TIA), supports the bill. However, the Automotive Service Association (ASA) and the major auto industry associations claim the bill is unnecessary because of the agreement they forged in September 2002, providing for the setup of repair information Web sites and creating the NASTF to oversee their operations.
Groups such as TIA, the Coalition for Auto Repair Equality (CARE) and the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) insist that most of the Web sites are hard to navigate and prohibitively expensive, and that NASTF is ineffective in handling complaints. Auto makers and the ASA balked at the AAIA-CARE demand to hold 50 percent of the NASTF board positions. This was one of the main reasons that negotiations between the two sides fell apart in September.
While still supporting the legislation, some of the congressmen at the Nov. 10 hearing opined that the two sides should find a non-legislative solution if possible. ``You don't want the government to get its nose under your tent,'' said Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., one of the bill's original sponsors.
Industry reaction to the FTC letter fell along predictable lines. ``It reinforces our support for an all-industry program,'' said Robert L. Redding, Washington representative for the ASA. ``It affirms what they've said publicly and privately-that industry resolve is the right approach, not a legislative or regulatory effort.''
Paul Fiore, director of government and business relations for TIA, said he doubted the FTC would need legislation to obtain the authority to appoint or oversee a governing board.
``We're not asking for that much in the bill,'' he said.
A spokeswoman for CARE, meanwhile, said merely that her organization continues to work for passage of the Right to Repair Act.
Both TIA and CARE said they expect a House Energy and Commerce Committee vote on the bill soon after the House reconvenes Jan. 31.