FTC to Tap Covington’s Smith to Lead Consumer Protection Unit

By Evan Weinberger

The Federal Trade Commission is expected to tap Andrew Smith, a Covington & Burling LLP partner who has represented consumer credit reporting firms and online lenders, to lead its Bureau of Consumer Protection in the coming weeks, sources with knowledge of the matter told Bloomberg Law.

Smith, who previously served as an assistant to the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection from 2001 to 2005, is expected to take over the bureau in May, the sources said.

The bureau is currently being led on an acting basis by J. Reilly Dolan. It has a full agenda on its plate, including looking at issues with debt collection and data breaches at companies like Facebook and Uber.

Smith, Covington and the FTC declined to comment when contacted by Bloomberg Law on April 17.

Extensive Experience

Smith, who joined Covington in 2016 after spending nine years as a partner at Morrison & Foerster LLP, has extensive experience in the consumer financial services industry.

In private practice, Smith has represented the Consumer Data Industry Association, including in congressional testimony in the wake of last year’s breach of Equifax Inc.’s data, and served as counsel to the Online Lenders Alliance.

Prior to his law partnerships, Smith spent four years as an assistant to the director of the FTC’s consumer protection bureau. Among his responsibilities was to lead studies and create rules for implementing the 2003 Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act.

Smith did much of his work at the FTC under former Bureau of Consumer Protection Director J. Howard Beales III. Beales said that Smith would be a solid choice to lead the bureau.

“He knows the agency well. He knows how the process works in the agency. He knows how to work with the chairman, which is an important part of the bureau director relationship. And he knows the substance,” Beales, now a professor of strategic management and public policy at George Washington University, said in a telephone interview.

Smith also spent three years as an attorney at the Securities and Exchange Commission early in his career.

Smith will bring long experience and an industry perspective to the FTC when he takes over the Bureau of Consumer Protection, but will not forget about the bureau’s mission, said Catherine Brennan, a partner at Hudson Cook LLP who focuses on consumer finance and fintech issues.

“I think it’s good for industry. He’s reasonable and fair. He’s also public-service minded,” Brennan told Bloomberg Law in a telephone interview.

Big Changes at FTC

Smith would replace Jessica Rich, the former director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. Rich served under former FTC Chair Edith Ramirez and left the commission in February 2017.

Since then, the division has been led by a succession of acting directors, including Thomas Pahl, who recently took a position supervising the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s regulatory activities under acting Director Mick Mulvaney.

The pending appointment of Smith comes as the FTC’s top leadership undergoes a significant change.

The Senate Commerce Committee in February advanced the nominations of four of President Donald Trump’s nominees to fill seats on the commission, including Joseph Simons, the Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison LLP partner Trump tapped to serve as the FTC’s chairman.

Simons could not be reached for comment on April 18.

The full Senate has yet to take up the nominations approved by the Commerce Committee.

Trump also sent the nomination of Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, a former aide to Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), to fill the last commissioner’s spot to the Senate on April 10.

To contact the reporter on this story: Evan Weinberger at eweinberger@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Ferullo at mferullo@bloomberglaw.com

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