MANCHESTER — A group of New Hampshire business leaders had direct access for an hour with a member of the Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday, raising concerns including auto financing regulations, health care and what it takes to be labeled "Made in America."
U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, hosted the roundtable discussion with FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen at Ayotte's office in downtown Manchester.
Ayotte said the idea was to provide feedback to the business leaders and allow them to get their message directly to a top administrator without the difficulty of trying to track down the right person in the FTC over the telephone or through e-mail.
"I think it's very important for any official from Washington to hear directly from people in New Hampshire about federal regulations and the concerns they have," said Ayotte, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee. "I think that direct feedback from the people on the ground is absolutely critical, and Washington agencies need to hear more."
Ohlhausen had answers to some of the questions and said she would have to look into others. She also welcomed hearing about instances where individuals or businesses have had difficulty getting an answer from the FTC.
"The FTC does a lot of outreach so I've offered to congressional offices if they would like me to come and talk on FTC topics, I'm happy to do that," she said.
Health care is a topic that came up Wednesday and is sure to again as federal reforms are implemented.
Alex Walker, general counsel for Catholic Medical Center, said it can be especially frustrating to try to manage the business aspect of health care without more insight from the federal officials that oversee such transactions.
"It would be great to be able to pick up a phone and be able to discuss matters like we have with the New Hampshire Attorney General's office at the state level," Walker said. "Just to be able to say 'here's what we're thinking about doing' and get your idea about that would be great."
Ayotte also invited staff from the state Attorney General, an office she once held.
James Boffetti, a senior assistant attorney general and bureau chief of the New Hampshire Department of Justice Consumer Protection and Antitrust Division, mentioned a communication breakdown between the state and federal officials when it comes to consumer complaints. Although the FTC has a database, Boffetti said it is extremely complicated to navigate.
"It's easier I think to get into the Vatican. It's a very difficult process and very frustrating because it takes hours of IT time," he said.Boffetti said scams are often conducted throughout the country and that his small staff has had difficulties getting responses from federal officials while trying to verify where else the fraud is occurring."I will raise that issue, and I think it's a very important one," Ohlhausen said.Boffetti said it would benefit the state, the FTC and overall consumers.
"I think there's a lot of room for improvement for how that then gets communicated back. It's rare that we get anything back from the FTC about complaints that we've given them. Those are the kind of things that would love to find a way for a more cooperative enforcement effort," he said. "I think it would just improve the atmosphere. It would certainly be a relief to consumers who are complaining to us and in some cases about a lot of money."
Representatives from Velcro Industries asked Ohlhausen if it would be possible to streamline the regulations of what qualifies to be receive a "made in the USA label,'' noting they currently have to add "with imported materials."