Yesterday, President Trump named Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen to be acting chairman of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). I have worked with her and have known her for nearly two decades, and I believe President Trump has made a wise choice in selecting her to oversee an agency that, while small, has a mission that is critical to the well-being of our economy and consumers.
Even though the FTC is a five-member body, there are currently only three commissioners. Two seats were left open when prior commissioners left, and Chairman Edith Ramirez has announced she is resigning early next month. This leaves the FTC with only two remaining commissioners: Republican Maureen Ohlhausen and Democrat Terrell McSweeny. While President Trump's choice of Ohlhausen is not much of a surprise, he has placed the agency in very capable hands to fight for his agenda.
In the short term, Ohlhausen will keep the agency on an even keel and moving forward in a very unusual situation. The FTC acts through majority vote, which means with only two commissioners, each one has veto power. Ohlhausen's recent experience being in the minority at the FTC, and her well-deserved reputation for getting things done, will serve the agency well as she finds ways to avoid gridlock without compromising one iota of her firmly-held conservative principles.
President Trump also should give serious consideration to making Ohlhausen the permanent chairman of the FTC. She has a deep commitment to liberty and limited government, which is very consistent with his free-market and deregulatory views. This was best seen in 2015 when Ohlhausen articulated her desire for the government to practice "regulatory humility" in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute. In essence, this means applying a firm recognition of the inherent limits on knowledge into the decisions the government makes.
This recognition is particularly warranted when government decisions require knowledge about the future consequences of government intervention in light of changes in markets and technology. As permanent FTC chairman, Ohlhausen would bring to bear a rigorous and consistent application of regulatory humility, limiting the scope of government intervention in the marketplace, and thereby fostering the innovation and economic growth that are at the heart of President Trump's agenda.
As FTC chairman, Ohlhausen's commitment to regulatory humility would be reflected not only in the FTC's own work but also in the policies of other federal and state agencies. Ohlhausen previously served as director of the FTC's Office of Policy Planning. In that role, she filed a slew of public comments and testified before federal and state agencies, persuading them to adopt pro-competitive and less regulatory policies. A recent article published in Reason Magazine describes this work in some detail and lauds her commitment to free markets and individual liberty.
After years of increased regulation during the Obama administration, Ohlhausen would be an active and articulate advocate for deregulation as federal agencies and state agencies consider proposed policies, including federal agencies heeding President Trump's call to deregulate.
She would ensure the FTC continues to share with other agencies its expertise of how such policies could affect competition and consumers. With Ohlhausen at the helm, President Trump's free market, less regulatory views are likely to be reflected not only in the policies of the FTC, but also in the policies of many other federal and state agencies.
Mark Twain once said, "Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does the work." Ohlhausen is a lawyer's lawyer who rarely thunders, but she works like lightning. President Trump made a wise choice in selecting Ohlhausen to be acting chairman of the FTC. If he wants a fighter for his free market, less regulatory views, President Trump should consider making her the permanent FTC chairman.
Thomas B. Pahl served as a managing counsel at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau during the Obama administration. He spent more than 20 years working on financial services and consumer protection issues at the Federal Trade Commission and is now a partner in Arnall Golden Gregory’s privacy and consumer regulatory practice in Washington.
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