April Tabor and Yaa Apori are attorneys with the Federal Trade Commission. They spoke on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol on October 4, 2013.
APRIL TABOR: I work in the Office of the Secretary for the Federal Trade Commission, so I actually work directly for the Secretary of the FTC. I essentially advise on policy. I also help to make sure the decisions of the Commission are actually implemented. But I’m here today as a private citizen. Anything I say is in my personal opinion, and not necessarily representative of FTC’s views.
YAA APORI: My name is Yaa Apori. I’m an attorney in the Division of Financial Practices of the FTC. I work on mortgage relief, debt relief, credit card scams—basically putting a stop to fraudulent business practices related to financial services. Like April, I can’t speak on behalf of the FTC. I can only speak in my capacity as a citizen.
TABOR: The FTC’s mission is to protect America’s consumers. We have over 900 employees working all over the country. We’re a small agency but we’re a very mighty one. Just in this year alone we’ve given back hundreds of millions of dollars to consumers as a result of our prosecution actions. So we deliver a lot of bang for our buck.
During times of economic uncertainty, the typical scams that we normally prosecute and stop—those fraudulent scams and operations skyrocket. Right now the entire FTC is furloughed, except for the commissioners and a select group of people. So we know that what’s happening now, during the shutdown, is that consumers are being harmed on a daily basis and there’s really nothing that can be done about it. We’re not able to help the public by receiving their complaints, registering their complaints, or prosecuting their complaints.
TABOR: We came down to Capitol Hill today to visit our congressmen. We visited fifteen different congressmen to let them know the impact the shutdown is having on federal government employees and the corresponding impact it is having on consumers. We know that it’s easy to ignore phone and email. But it’s not easy to ignore someone who is right in front of you, looking at you and expressing their concerns.
We visited the offices of the Speaker of the House, the Majority Whip, and the leaders of the Budget, Appropriations, and Ways and Means committees. We spoke to their different chiefs of staff to let them know our concerns, and that we want the government to be re-opened. We also told them that discussions to re-open the government and raise the debt ceiling should not be tied to political gamesmanship at the expense of the American people. We told them we expect them, as leaders, to rise above the political blaming, to be the bigger people, to come forward, and focus on the people who are being affected by the shutdown on a daily basis.
But it’s not just about our agency. It’s about the entire federal government. I think people don’t understand the overall impact that a federal government shutdown has on their day-to-day lives. Although, now I think people are starting to get an understanding of it.
The other concern we expressed to the representatives, is that the piecemeal bills to fund the re-opening of the national parks, the National Institutes of Health, the Veterans Administration—that passing those piecemeal bills is not a solution. It would be a band-aid that would make the American people feel the problem had been resolved without really resolving anything. We said, “We understand the House passed many of those measures, but we are opposed to that. We want a solution. We don’t want to revisit this again and again and again. It’s not fair to the American people.”
I think our visits expanded their perspective, and that we made the problem harder to ignore. I think it’s harder to politicize the shutdown when you have a person telling you, “I have this many days until my mortgage payment or I risk a default.”
And I have to say, we were very well received. They listened, they were respectful. They spoke to us and addressed our concerns.
So I would suggest that every federal employee in DC do this. For most of us, the congressional offices are just a couple extra Metro stops. I mean, you were going to commute to your job today. Go the couple extra stops. Visit a member of Congress. Visit as many of them as you can. Let your voice be heard.
APORI: And it’s not just something we think; it’s something they said. They said they were happy to see people who came in. They encouraged us.
In terms of who we’re seeing next, I grew up in Texas . . .
TABOR: So, Senator Cruz, baby! That’s after lunch. (laughter).
APORI: Yeah. We’re going back. Just engaging with someone. We’re staff, so we can understand how relaying a comment, an opinion, a concern, will get back to the people who matter most. We’re here, we might as well do it.