Ohlhausen takes quest for permanent chair to conservative conference

By Claude Marx. Originally published on FTC:Watch March 3, 2017.

Since Election Day put Republicans in the driver's seat, acting Federal Trade Commission Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen seems to be working overtime to keep the job on a permanent basis.

She has made unusually sharp-edged comments before an array of legal groups and think tanks, touting the virtues of regulatory humility, and even has taken some potshots at the Democratic-led commission.

In recent days she took her campaign to the GOP's base by speaking twice in two days at different sessions of the Conservative Political Action Conference, addressing activists who make up the base of the Republican Party.

Ohlhausen, the quintessential mainstream pro-business Republican, didn't toss red meat to the crowd like other speakers. Her rhetoric was substantive but the tone was more akin to a veggie burger.

On Feb. 23, she was on a panel titled "When Did World War III Begin? Part A: Threats to Home." The other panel members, including a sheriff, a conservative filmmaker from New Zealand and a former CIA agent who spoke of the dangers of illegal immigration and Islamic terrorism, revved up the crowd with their remarks.

While the panelists spoke, Ohlhausen's face alternated between looking like she was sucking on a lemon and like she was trying to keep her poker game opponents guessing about her hand.

She was the last speaker and touched on less sexy subjects — protecting intellectual property and privacy — that resonate with broad cross sections of people. After all, who could be against protecting creativity and privacy?

Ohlhausen urged more aggressive action to combat domestic and foreign entities that didn't respect intellectual property rights. She said there was an especially big problem with Chinese manufacturing companies that steal the intellectual property of American firms.

The acting chairman added that there is a strong correlation between improved protection of IP rights and greater innovation. Ohlhausen also noted that China makes up for its lack of technological innovation by not always respecting intellectual property.

Ohlhausen highlighted the work that the FTC is doing to encourage companies to do more to protect personal data. She said that the agency has issued best practices to provide guidance about better safeguarding data. Ohlhausen pointed out that she, personally, knows the sting of data breaches as she had been a victim when the Office of Personnel Management's database was hacked a few years ago.

On a Feb. 24 panel focusing on China, she reiterated the points she had made the previous day. She has become the agency's China expert, having been there seven times since becoming a commissioner in 2012.

Though Ohlhausen has spoken to the conference on two previous occasions, her two appearances during this year's meeting comes as conservative activists are especially optimistic about bringing change to Washington, given GOP control of the White House and both chambers of Congress. That made CPAC an especially good venue for the acting chairman.

President Donald Trump hasn't indicated a timetable for announcing a permanent agency chair. In addition to Ohlhausen, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes is also under consideration for the post.

Reyes has held his post since 2013 and has been especially active on consumer protection issues. He also collaborated with District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine last year urging the FTC to reopen its antitrust investigation into Google.

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