Heading the International Trade Commission seems like a natural career progression to Williamson—and a fitting capstone to a 40-year commitment to economic progress at home and abroad.
A St. Louis native born to a journalist father and a social worker mother, Williamson interned at the State Department as a Brown University history major. Next came a Johns Hopkins master’s in international relations and 18 years with the Foreign Service, largely in Africa and the Middle East.
Williamson earned a George Washington University law degree at night, and later worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as a manager of trade policy, allowing his wife (a corporate lawyer), son, and daughter to call New York home. A stint as a deputy counsel to the U.S. Trade Representative and work on implementing thorny accords such as NAFTA “solidified my love of and expertise in trade policy,” said Williamson, 69.
That passion for policy led to a leadership role in a Clinton-era initiative to spur opportunity in Africa. Williamson, a Democrat, was in Ethiopia in 2006 as a consultant when President Bush nominated him for the political appointment ushered by Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.
The ITC has six commissioners, with no more than three from a single party, each with an overlapping nine-year term. Williamson, an ITC commissioner since February 2007, will complete his two-year term as chairman next June. As chairman during an era of austerity, he emphasizes communication and preparation to stay atop investigations, lately dominated by intellectual-property issues and policies pressured by fast-changing technology. For instance, while IP cases peaked in 2011, those the ITC now handles are more complex and lengthy; to adapt, the ITC added administrative judges and a courtroom and digitized various processes, all geared to handle cases ranging from robotic toys to marine Omega-3 extracts.
In juggling all that, Williamson’s team approach has not gone unnoticed by his colleagues. Said Daniel Pearson, a Republican commissioner: “Irving has gone out of his way to ensure a high degree of collegiality and consensus.... His collaborative style has helped to make the ITC one of the most bipartisan places in town.”