Obama looks for new trade commission chairman

The White House is currently deciding who should head the Federal Trade Commission, an agency with key competition enforcement and consumer protection responsibilities.

The current chairman, Jon Leibowitz, had planned to step down on Feb. 15, but agency spokesman Peter Kaplan confirmed that Leibwoitz will now stay on into next week. The move gives the White House a few more days to make a decision or at least name an acting chairman.

President Obama could skip the lengthy confirmation process if he chooses one of the two current Democratic commissioners, Julie Brill or Edith Ramirez. Sitting commissioners have already been confirmed, and the president does not need Senate approval to elevate them to the chairman's spot.

Brill, who has been ramping up her public appearances in recent months, is widely believed to want the agency's top job.

She has a reputation as an aggressive enforcer who is tough on consumer protection issues like online privacy.

Brill has many supporters, including on Capitol Hill, and is the front-runner for the job, according to one person who follows the commission closely. But the source predicted that naming Brill as chairman could upset the business community and Republicans.

If Obama names one of the two current Democratic commissioners as chairman, he would still have to pick a new fifth commissioner.

The source said that if Obama picks Brill, he could be forced to name a business-friendly fifth commissioner or risk sparking a fight with Senate Republicans.

A prolonged vacancy could cause the commission to deadlock on key votes between the two Democratic and two Republican commissioners.

Other leading candidates for the job include Howard Shelanski, the director of the agency's Bureau of Economics, and Philip Weiser, the dean of the University of Colorado Law School who served in the White House and Justice Department under Obama.

As chairman, Leibwoitz made online privacy protection one of the agency's top priorities.

The commission settled charges with Facebook, Google and other Web companies for failing to follow their own privacy policies.

The agency also expanded regulations aimed at protecting the online privacy of children.

Last month, the FTC closed its nearly two-year antitrust investigation into Google's search practices. The agency decided to take no action against Google over allegations that it manipulates its search results to boost its own services.