An attorney who formerly represented Equifax has been selected to head the Federal Trade Commission office that is currently investigating the consumer credit reporting agency.
According to ThinkProgress, Andrew Smith has spent much of his career representing the very companies he will now be expected to regulate and investigate.
Smith will have to recuse himself from numerous ongoing investigations that his office would normally lead, including the commission’s high-profile scrapes of data breaches at Equifax and Facebook, because of his past work on behalf of the firms.
But the full list of his conflicts of interest is likely much, much longer. Smith has built his career on representing large firms and industries who hoped to soften regulations that he will now be charged with enforcing. FTC officials did not respond to a request for copies of Smith’s ethics paperwork that might reveal the whole picture.
The offices two Democratic commissioners – Rohit Chopra and Rebecca Kelly Slaughter – issued scathing responses to Chairman Joseph Simons’ decision to give Smith the greenlight without taking their concerns into consideration.
The many recusals that Smith’s past work will force at FTC’s consumer watchdog office mean “[w]e will not be able to fully utilize Andrew’s significant experience, talents, and qualifications,” Chopra wrote.
“I am concerned that selecting a director for the Bureau of Consumer Protection who is barred from leading on data privacy and security matters that affect so many consumers, command so much public attention, and implicate such key areas of the law potentially undermines the public’s confidence in the Commission’s ability to fulfill its mission,” Slaughter wrote.
As an attorney with Covington & Burling – “a massive ‘white-shoe’ firm specializing in corporate defense work and regulatory compliance” – Smith concentrated on protecting corporations from regulation, oversight and investigation and worked toward easing the rules financial companies are expected to follow.
At a Senate hearing last October over the Equifax scandal, Smith suggested that the credit bureaus face too much scrutiny, not too little. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s new authority means Equifax and its peers “have been subject to essentially continuous examination cycles” that force them to “expend substantial resources responding to examiner requests.”
The Senate panel was not impressed with Smith’s line of thinking; ThinkProgress notes that Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) told the lawyer that he needed to give the public “specific things that you and your clients are going to do to improve the situation, not platitudes, not bromides, specific suggestions.”
Now, Smith will be in an even odder position than he was at last fall’s hearing. Instead of telling lawmakers to back off his clients because they’re trying their best and they’re super-duper sorry that they revealed sensitive information about nearly every adult American, he’ll be running the office that’s supposed to investigate how exactly those clients screwed up — and deciding what ought to be done about it.