U.S. consumer watchdogs have expressed concern over the possible appointment of Andrew Smith as the next director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
According to Reuters, the concern stems from the fact that Smith, a partner at the law firm Covington & Burling LLP, represented credit reporting companies over the massive data breach at Equifax last year.
Sources say that the FTC’s five commissioners will be voting on Smith’s appointment, a process that takes several days.
The Bureau of Consumer Protection’s last permanent director was Jessica Rich, who spent 25 years at the FTC. Earlier this month, Joseph Simons was sworn in as FTC chairman.
The FTC declined comment about Smith, who worked for the Consumer Data Industry Association, which represents credit reporting companies. He testified before Congress in October on their behalf.
“It’s problematic that he’s going to have this job. The optics look really bad,” said Chi Chi Wu, an attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. “The Equifax investigation is one of the biggest consumer protection matters that the FTC is dealing with.”
While Smith is expected to recuse himself from any Equifax probe, Ed Mierzwinski of U.S. Public Interest Research Group called Smith’s possible appointment “problematic.”
“He did his job well for Covington on behalf of CDIA. And they have avoided a lot of necessary oversight from the Congress,” he said. “The credit bureaus are very well served by their outside attorneys.”
The FTC doesn’t investigate breaches, but it did start an investigation into how credit reporting agency Equifax handled its consumer data. Last year, the company suffered a data breach that compromised the personal information of 145.5 million consumers.
“Equifax was entrusted with Americans’ private data, and we let them down,” then-CEO Richard Smith said in written testimony. “To each and every person affected by this breach, I am deeply sorry that this occurred.”
During his congressional testimony in October, Smith called the hack an “unprecedented breach.”