FTC Chairman to Leave in Mid-February

Leibowitz one of the most active FTCs in recent memory

Federal Trade Commission chairman Jon Leibowitz will step down from the agency February 15 after four years as chairman. He has been a commissioner since 2004.

Many in Washington anticipated his move, announced late Thursday in a number of leading national newspapers, since last year.

But first, Leibowitz had a few things on his "to do" list that he wanted to finish, including closing the agency's two-year antitrust investigation into Google and passing updated rules to the children's privacy laws. On Friday, the FTC is expected to release a staff report on mobile privacy and related enforcement action.

"I felt like this was a good time to leave because we got through a number of things that I wanted the commission to address," Leibowitz told The New York Times

Leibowitz, 54, led one of the most active FTCs in recent memory, pushing the agency forward on a number of consumer protection initiatives including online and mobile privacy. The FTC settled major privacy cases with both Google and Facebook and made Do Not Track a household word.

During Leibowitz's tenure, the Consumer Protection Bureau under David Vladeck (who recently exited to return to Georgetown's law school) stepped up its enforcement of unfair deceptive advertising practices. For the first time, the FTC brought cases against national advertisers, extracting the largest financial settlements in the agency's history from advertisers such as Reebok and Skechers.

Leibowitz has no immediate plans for his next job. "I'm not sure what I'll be doing, so the best course of action is to leave before I think about what I will do," he said during a press conference Friday. "I won't be leaving with any regrets. These jobs are exhilarating, but they are also exhausting."

Now the Washington parlor game of who will succeed Leibowitz goes into high gear. The most popular supposition is that Leibowitz's successor will come from the inside, either Democratic commissioners Julie Brill or Edith Ramirez. Others named floated include Howard Shelanski, director of the FTC bureau of economics. 

Until the Senate confirms a successor, Leibowitz's departure will leave a 2-2 split at the five-member commission potentially limiting some actions at the FTC until a majority is restored.