Kovacic Appointed New FTC Chairman

By Annys Shin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 27, 2008

The White House yesterday named William E. Kovacic as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, replacing Deborah Platt Majoras.

Kovacic, who has sat on the five-member panel since 2006, assumes his new duties Sunday.

He will not have to be confirmed by the Senate because he is already on the commission, FTC spokeswoman Nancy Judy said.

Kovacic, a well-known antitrust expert, takes over the 1,100-employee consumer protection agency as it grapples with how to police anti-competitive, deceptive and unfair business practices in the digital age.

As a commissioner, he was one of three Republicans and voted often with Majoras. The other members are J. Thomas Rosch, a Republican, Pamela Jones Harbour, an independent, and Jon Leibowitz, a Democrat.

Kovacic's votes have upset some privacy and consumer advocates, who contend the FTC in recent years has been too easy on business.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, criticized Kovacic's support for the Google-DoubleClick merger without requiring certain privacy safeguards. Privacy advocates had argued that such safeguards were necessary because Google and DoubleClick, an online display-advertising company, collect vast amounts of personal information from consumers, which they use to target advertising. The commission voted 4 to 1 not to block their merger, with Harbour dissenting.

Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America criticized Kovacic over the FTC's investigation of price-gouging by oil companies following Hurricane Katrina. Cooper called the FTC's conclusion that prices were driven up by shortages caused by damage to refineries, not manipulation, a "white wash."

Critics and colleagues alike, however, described Kovacic as smart, thoughtful and witty -- traits he will probably need as he presides over a four-member commission without a built-in Republican majority.

The White House has not indicated whether it will nominate another commissioner, who would have to survive Senate confirmation. Spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said she does not comment on personnel matters.

Before joining the commission, Kovacic taught law at George Washington University and at George Mason University. He has held three other jobs at the FTC in the past 30 years, including a stint as general counsel from 2001 to 2004.

Kovacic could not be reached for comment last night.

FTC insiders consider Kovacic's long history with the agency a plus.

"He cares deeply about the institution, and we're all anticipating he will be a terrific collegial chairman," Leibowitz said.

Peter Swire, who was President Bill Clinton's privacy adviser, said Kovacic will listen to all sides.

"Privacy advocates may not always agree with him, but he will give them a very fair hearing," he said.

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