The GOP-controlled Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has tapped as its consumer protection chief an industry lawyer who has represented companies like Facebook and Equifax, both of which are under investigation by the agency for mishandling user data.
Andrew Smith was named bureau chief Wednesday after a 3-2 party-line vote among the among the agency’s commissioners. FTC Chairman Joseph Simons blasted the two Democrats on the commission for their “unprecedented opposition” to Smith’s appointment.
“I am disappointed that two of my new colleagues have chosen to turn Mr. Smith’s appointment into a source of unnecessary controversy,” Simons said in a statement. “I am highly confident that Mr. Smith will be an effective leader of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. He is widely respected as one of our country’s best and most experienced consumer protection lawyers.”
Simons dismissed concerns about Smith’s record, saying that most of the bureau’s work is handled by career staffers who will be able to take up the slack in the event that Smith must recuse himself from an investigation.
An FTC spokesman did not respond when asked about what matters from which Smith might recuse himself.
In October, Smith testified before the Senate Banking Committee on behalf of the credit reporting industry as the panel investigated an Equifax data breach that compromised more than 145 million people. The FTC also revealed last year that it was investigating the incident.
Rohit Chopra, one of the commission's two Democrats, said he was concerned about Simons’s decision to select someone who could be “spending too much time on the sidelines.”
“Andrew Smith’s list of conflicts of interest raises many questions,” Chopra said. “He may be unable to participate in some of the FTC’s high-profile and consequential matters of intense public interest.”
The announcement is the first major move of Simons’s chairmanship. He, Chopra and two of the other FTC commissioners were all confirmed last month.
According to The New York Times, which reported last week that Smith’s appointment was imminent, Smith will have to recuse himself in all agency investigations into his previous clients.