Trump FTC Picks Get Valentine’s Day Confirmation Hearing

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By Daniel R. Stoller

President Donald Trump’s nominees for the Federal Trade Commission—which has been running short three commissioners for a year—are set for Feb. 14 Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee confirmation hearings.

Nominees Joseph Simons (R), Rohit Chopra (D), Noah Phillips (R), and Christine Wilson (R) would all fill commissioner slots on the FTC, including one now filled by Democrat Terrell McSweeney’s hold-over appointment. Her term expired last year.

Simons, if confirmed, would take over as chairman. Trump has announced his intent to nominate Acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen (R) to the U.S. Federal Court of Claims, although Ohlhausen has said she would remain until more commissioners are confirmed.

If all four nominees win Senate confirmation, the FTC would be left with a 3-1 Republican majority and one slot to be filled by a Democrat, independent, or other minority party member.

Privacy Experience

Although many of Trump’s nominees have strong consumer protection and antitrust experience, they don’t have direct experience with privacy or data security issues—a linchpin of the FTC, which is the chief federal agency overseeing those areas.

That is not unusual for the agency, where many past commissioners have also lacked previous privacy or data security experience. Ohlhausen, a former privacy, data security, and cybersecurity practice leader at Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP, is an exception.

Each nominee addressed privacy and data security as one of the main issues before the FTC in written responses to committee questions.

Simons, a former director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, said rapid changes in technology and cyberthreats “provide a significant challenge to the Agency’s ability to fulfill its consumer protection mission.” He stressed that the FTC should try to protect consumers who are using data to compete in today’s markets.

Phillips wrote that as chief counsel to Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), he advised the senator on privacy and national security issues. He highlighted the importance of “the new realities of data privacy” and the FTC’s role in protecting consumers.

Chopra, a former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau member, discussed privacy issues in regard to big data’s rapid growth, citing it as one of the FTC’s top three challenges.

Wilson highlighted privacy and data security issues related to rapid advancements in technology. She cited “significant concerns” about the misuse of sensitive health data, according to her committee questionnaire.

At full strength, the FTC has five presidentially-appointed and Senate-confirmed commissioners with no more than three from either political party. The FTC has been operating with only two commissioners since February 2017, when then-Chairwoman Edith Ramirez (D) left office.

The spokesman for Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg Law’s email request for comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel R. Stoller in Washington at dstoller@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Donald Aplin at daplin@bloomberglaw.com

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