2004 Citizens Services Recipient: Eileen Harrington and the FTC Do Not Call Team

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Oftentimes, people do not recognize the tangible positive impact that government has in their lives. But if you enjoyed an interruption-free dinner last night, chances are you have Uncle Sam and his friends at the Federal Trade Commission to thank. Opened on June 27, 2003, the FTC’s Do Not Call Registry enables consumers to block phone calls from telemarketers. All consumers have to do is sign up online or through a toll-free number, and registration is free. By any measure, the success of this program has been phenomenal. The registry quickly became the most searched-for site on the Internet, and more than 10 million people were registered in the first four days. According to a January 2004 Harris Poll, 91 percent of adults have heard of the registry, and 57 percent have actually registered—bringing the number of enrollees to almost 60 million. Ninety-two percent of enrollees report receiving fewer calls, and 78 percent say that they get “far fewer calls” or none at all. Humphrey Taylor, who is Chairman of the Harris Poll, said, “In my experience, these results are remarkable. It is rare to find so many people benefit so quickly from a relatively inexpensive government program.” What’s almost more remarkable than the popularity and effectiveness of this program is the efficiency and speed with which it was implemented. And that success was only made possible by a truly extraordinary agency-wide effort on the part of a diverse team of highly committed staff at the FTC. The FTC’s decision to create the registry was announced in December 2002, with the goal of having it up and running by June 2003. Meeting that deadline brought together staff from across the agency—attorneys, paralegals and administrative staff from the Consumer Protection Bureau led the legal and education efforts, with advice from the General Counsel’s Office and Economics Bureau. Information Systems members built the infrastructure and worked with the Acquisitions office on the contracting process. Finance Office staff lent their expertise to contracting and setup of the payment system. Budget and Congressional Relations members led the effort to implement legislation and secure funding. The FTC’s Do Not Call Registry Team has given the nation a model for how government should work. The registry’s creation was not a case of the Commission simply following Congress’s marching orders. It was the result of the FTC’s using its authority creatively, aggressively and responsibly to implement its own original initiative to protect consumers’ interests. The FTC’s decision to create the registry followed a comprehensive review of existing consumer protection rules and many public workshops, meetings and briefings. It also reflected more than 64,000 public comments. While the policy-making process was deliberate, once the decision to create the registry was made, it was up and running and available to consumers within only a few months. The Do Not Call Registry Team not only demonstrates the government’s ability to deliver practical solutions that are positively impacting the everyday lives of millions of Americans, but it also gives us a template of how a federal agency should operate—with different divisions breaking down traditional barriers and pooling diverse talents to achieve concrete results and advance a collective mission. Now if they could only do something about that talkative neighbor and those ten extra pounds that just won’t go away.