​Ohlhausen says her FTC experience is an asset for carrying out President Trump’s agenda

20 March 2017 1:27pm

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22 February 2017. 

Acting Federal Trade Commission Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen said her years of experience at the agency would be an asset in carrying out the agenda of a president intent on changing how Washington, DC, operates.

The Republican told MLex she has a record at the FTC for promoting competition while counseling regulatory restraint — two goals of President Donald Trump.

"I've talked about reducing barriers to entrepreneurship," she said. "I'm very interested in economic liberty. I've spent years fighting on those fronts. Making sure markets stay competitive, fighting for consumers against fraud but allowing innovation to flourish. I've also expressed concerns about regulatory burdens."

Her FTC background will allow her to focus the agency on these priorities quickly, she said.

"I'm well-positioned to be able to put my finger right on where we can make improvements right away," she said.

Ohlhausen, who has served as a commissioner since 2012, is the one agency insider being considered as the permanent head of the FTC. Her prime competition is Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who emerged as the leading contender for the post several weeks ago.

Ohlhausen's supporters have portrayed her as someone who will, in her own words, establish "regulatory humility" at the FTC.

Before becoming commissioner, Ohlhausen served in senior staff positions at the agency. Between 2004 and 2008, she was director of the Office of Policy Planning and from 1998 to 2001, she was attorney adviser to former FTC Commissioner Orson Swindle. She began at the agency in the general counsel's office in 1997.

Whether Trump will nominate an agency veteran is unclear. The real estate magnate and reality-television star campaigned as a Washington outsider who would change the way the federal government does business.

Even before Trump tapped her as acting chairman last month, Ohlhausen was distancing herself from some FTC actions taken under Democratic leadership. She publicly criticized the agency's decision to sue handset chipmaker Qualcomm for its aggressive licensing practices.

As acting chairman, Ohlhausen has made her own appointments to change the FTC's course from what she has said was the Obama administration's overreach. Thomas Pahl, her pick as acting director of the agency's Bureau of Consumer Protection, started his new job on Tuesday.

She named Tad Lipsky, a well-known practitioner and former antitrust official in the Reagan administration, as acting director of the Bureau of Competition. He is scheduled to take over on March 6 from Debbie Feinstein, the current head of the competition unit, Ohlhausen said.

Many aspects of the "FTC's long-term agenda" are in line with Trump's call for lower drug prices, she said.

She pointed to the agency's success in bringing so-called pay-for-delay suits against brand-name and generic drugmakers that strike deals with each other to keep cheaper generic medications off the market.

The FTC also has helped keep healthcare costs in check by forcing divestitures in big pharmaceutical mergers and suing to block some hospital deals, Ohlhausen said.

If factual and economic evidence and established antitrust legal theory lead to the conclusion a deal would hurt competition, "we should move ahead and bring a case," she said. "We're an enforcement agency and no company is above the law."

Intellectual property

In her tenure at the agency, Ohlhausen has attempted to define when antitrust law should be applied in trademark disputes, and when contract and patent laws would suffice. On Feb. 1, the FTC's commissioners led by Ohlhausen said bilateral agreements between 1-800 Contacts and 14 other online contact lens retailers weren't immunized from antitrust laws.

In the agreements, the companies said they wouldn't bid against each other for keyword advertising on search engines such as Google and Bing, according to the agency.

Ohlhausen also has made combating the abuse of government processes a priority. This month, the agency in a complaint said Shire ViroPharma violated antitrust laws by filing sham petitions with the Food and Drug Administration and courts to delay FDA approval of a generic version of its brand-name antibiotic Vancocin.

Ohlhausen supports the Standard Merger and Acquisition Reviews Through Equal Rules, or Smarter, Act, which would more closely align the review procedures of the FTC and US Department of Justice's antitrust division. The bill is backed by congressional Republicans.

FTC - Qualcomm Trial