The Bush administration is turning out to be more aggressive on antitrust enforcement than many critics ever anticipated.
Just ask Computer Associates International and Platinum Technology, the latest victims of a Department of Justice that seems bent on keeping software and technology companies in line.
Late last month, the DOJ filed suit alleging the companies "jumped the gun" in coordinating management and pricing before their merger was fully blessed by the government — a violation of the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act. The DOJ is seeking about $1.27 million in fines.
When George W. Bush finally won the presidency last December, it was widely predicted that the DOJ would slip into an antitrust slumber reminiscent of the Reagan administration.
"The reality is apparently that [the Bush administration] is committed to a policy of basic continuity," said Bert Foer, president of the American Antitrust Institute.
Indeed, the DOJ is not backing off the antitrust case brought against Microsoft by a Clinton DOJ. Last month, Charles James, assistant attorney general for Enforcement, dropped a key tying charge against the company; he adamantly said that the move was done for expediency, and not because of pressure from Attorney General John Ashcroft. The two sides are currently in court-ordered settlement talks until Nov. 2.
In late July, the DOJ and several states announced they would sue to block the planned United Airlines acquisition of US Airways, claiming the merger would reduce competition. The announcement alone was enough to scuttle the already teetering deal.
"This administration is not taking a hard line position against antitrust enforcement," said Hillard Sterling, an attorney of Gordon & Glickson. "If [it] feels it has a solid case, it will proceed effectively."
Sterling said he expects the Bush team to stay aggressive on antitrust issues and be more vigilant than both the Reagan and George H. Bush administrations. "This is new era, with significant open questions about the need for intervention in tech areas," he said.