Texas Reps. Burgess and Olson sponsor bills to disrupt the FTC

By Sharon Brooks Hodge | May 23, 2016

WASHINGTON – Two members of the Texas congressional delegation are sponsors of legislation in what has been dubbed the Disrupt Series, a package of 11 bills designed to reform the Federal Trade Commission.

Hearings are being held on May 24 on several of the proposals by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, which is chaired by Rep. Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX). Burgess is sponsor of the Technological Innovation through Modernizing Enforcement (TIME) Act, and Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) sponsored the Freeing Responsible and Effective Exchanges (FREE) Act.

“Currently FTC commissioners are prohibited from discussing official business outside of the official commission meetings,” Olson told the Southeast Texas Record.

That requirement can be cumbersome in moving forward and delay progress. Consistent with all of the bills in the series, the intent is to modernize how the commission operates.

“Like most jobs, all work cannot take place at one meeting, but colleagues continue to talk," Olson said. "At the FTC, the commissioners currently must communicate through their staff, much like the childhood game of telephone."

The provisions of the FREE Act would allow a bipartisan majority of commissioners to discuss official business if an attorney from the General Counsel’s office is present.

“They cannot take any agency actions and must disclose the nature of the meeting within two days, including attendees and items discussed,” Olson said, adding, “Transparency is still provided, this minor tweak to the process just allows the commissioners to work more efficiently with open lines of communications.”

Although Olson’s bill is a minor tweak, other proposals in the legislative package would have more significant impact, such as one focusing on digital currency and block chain technology.

“The block chain is a decentralized ledger of transactions that can be used to secure and validate any exchange of data, including assets, such as commodities or currencies,” John Beccia, general counsel and chief compliance officer at Circle Internet Financial said in a witness statement.

Beccia, who testified during a March 16 hearing, told Congress there is no question that the nation’s existing payment system can be improved in speed, safety and efficiency.

“Digital currency and the block chain hold promise to further improve payments by lowering costs for businesses, decreasing fraud risk for consumers and merchants, increasing consumer privacy and protection, and expanding the market for financial products on a worldwide basis,” Beccia said.

Other bills in the Disrupter series address such topics as prohibiting companies from trying to silence customer opinions online, wearable devices, 3-D printing, mobile payments, the economic impact of drones, as well as the sharing economy.

In a May 17 news release about the upcoming hearings, Burgess said that in many respects the FTC has the right tools for the job, but some targeted changes would go a long way toward paving the way for innovation.

“We’ll closely examine how the bills help the FTC protect consumers, businesses, and jobs and whether they provide some clarity to companies who need it,” Burgess said.

The bill Burgess sponsored would amend the Federal Trade Commission Act to set an eight-year time limit for consent orders. Currently, consent orders for small businesses expire in 10 to 20 years.

“It’s especially critical that government agencies like the FTC are at the forefront of job creation and encouraging innovation, not impeding it,” Burgess said.

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