Trump Taps Simons for FTC Chair

Also will nominate former top official in Obama Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

President Donald Trump has signaled his intention to nominate Joseph Simons, a partner in the antitrust group at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to be the next chairman of the Federal Trade Commission.

The move had been expected since August.

Simons is the former head of antitrust enforcement at the FTC as director of the bureau of competition in the first term of President George W. Bush. He will be nominated to a seven-year term retroactive to Sept. 26.

The FTC is currently at only 2 members, which is enough to make decisions if both the Republican chairman (Maureen Ohlhausen) and Democratic commissioner (Terrell McSweeny) agree. A quorum is not required for decisions, as is the case with the FCC.

The White House was playing up Simons' non-merger enforcement action resume--over 100 investigations during his 2001-2003 tenure.

Also being nominated to the remainder of a seven-year term on the FTC ending Sept 25, 2019, is Democrat Rohit Chopra, a senior fellow at the Consumer Federation of America specializing in consumer protections for young people and military families.

Chopra served as the assistant director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under President Barack Obama, as well as a special adviser to the Secretary of Education. His resume also includes a stint at McKinsey & Company.

According to a Justice Department bio, Simons was at one time one of the top 10 wireless license holders in the country.

That was when Justice and the FCC and a district court approved him as trustee for four wireless businesses related to the GTE/Bell Atlantic/Vodafone deal. He managed the divestiture of those licenses/businesses, performing a similar role for the Cingular/AT&T deal.

Simons also helped develop the "critical loss analysis" technique for defining markets that was later adopted by the FTC's antitrust division as well as Justice. The two agencies divide up Hart Scott Rodino antitrust reviews of mergers over a threshold of about $75 million in value.

Ohlhausen has been acting chair since the President took over in January.

“I am honored that the President asked me to serve as the Acting Chairman of the FTC, which has allowed me to lay the groundwork for the Commission’s efforts to protect economic liberty, support small businesses and military consumers, fight fraud, promote vigorous competition, and refocus agency enforcement where it best serves the public,” Ohlhausen said of the signaled nominations--they don't become official until they are actually sent to the Senate.

"Our efforts to streamline the agency and reduce or eliminate wasteful, outdated regulations have also removed nnecessary burdens on the American people, and allowed the Commission to function more efficiently and effectively."

“The FTC is tasked with the important work of protecting consumers and supporting a vibrant, competitive economy for all," said Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee Chairman Bob Latta (R-Ohio). "With the nomination of Mr. Simons as chairman, we are closer to a full complement of leadership at the commission. We thank Acting Chairman Ohlhausen for her service during the transition, and we look forward to working with Mr. Simons, Mr. Chopra, and the commissioners in our shared mission to always put the consumer first," they said.

"Consumer groups will be keeping a close eye on what happens to the FTC under its new leadership," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "The FTC has already fallen behind ensuring consumers are treated fairly by the digital marketplace, especially their right to privacy."

The White House still needs to name a fifth, Republican, commissioner--various reports say it will be Noah Phillips, chief counsel in the office of Senator John Cornyn (R-Tex.)--or a replacement for Ohlhausen if she decides to leave once the new chairman was seated. She is likely to stick around, though given that 1) her term runs through September of next year; 2) she would be in the majority for the first time, and 3) she has not indicated she is going anywhere.

The White House will want to name that fifth commissioner soon to break. No sense in breaking the current 1-1 tie to install a potential 2-2 political stalemate.