The acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) often says that the only reason he hasn’t burned the agency down is because it’s illegal.
Mick Mulvaney, the staunchly conservative White House budget director, has taken extensive steps to restrain and reform the CFPB while insisting he would do just enough to meet its legally mandated actions. He has worked to undo years of the bureau’s most controversial rules while laying the groundwork for a massive reduction in the CFPB’s reach and authority, including calling on Congress to strip its powers.
Just this week, Mulvaney dismissed the members of three CFPB advisory boards, including a consumer advocate panel he’s legally required to meet with twice each year.
Here are five ways that Mulvaney, who fought against the CFPB’s creation as a member of the House, has transformed it from within during his six months atop the agency.
Structural changes and political hires
Mulvaney has used his vast power and independence to sway the CFPB by pairing career bureau staffers hired for policy chops with highly paid political appointees. He’s also rearranged the bureau’s structure, making a broad array of powers subject to his appointees’ control.
Mulvaney’s top aides have overseen efforts to slim down the bureau and make it more responsive to the financial services industry.
The acting director brought on Brian Johnson and Kirsten Sutton Mork in senior roles, giving them oversight of most day-to-day bureau functions. The former aides to Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the House Financial Services Committee chairman, were key to his legislative and investigative efforts to tame the CFPB.
Hensarling led the House GOP’s push to repeal most of the CFPB’s powers and launched probes of the bureau’s regulatory actions through his subpoena power.
Mulvaney, a former Financial Services panel member, said the arrangement mirrored other federal agencies and balanced out a staff composed mainly of Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (Mass.) acolytes.
Mulvaney also stoked rage among the CFPB’s progressive supporters and some small financial institutions when he dismissed this week the members of three key advisory groups.
CFPB officials downplayed the furor among consumer advocacy groups and insisted that board members only cared about “their taxpayer funded junkets to Washington, D.C., and being wined and dined by the Bureau.”
Board members called the claim outrageous and some offered to cover their own expenses.
“We give two days of our time working, sitting at our table from morning until night, digging into these weighty issues,” Josh Zinner, the CEO of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, said Wednesday. “They have no actual rationale for dismissing these boards, and now they’re just resorting to name calling. It’s absurd.”
Retreat on payday lending crackdown
Mulvaney has reversed the CFPB’s wide crackdown on short-term, high-interest loans.
The acting director opposes the bureau’s October 2017 rule targeting “payday” loans and sought to delay it through several means. He delayed the compliance date for the first portion of the rule in January, and started the lengthy regulatory process to rewrite it.
The CFPB filed a joint motion with a group of payday lenders suing against the rule, asking the court to delay its effective date until their case is completed.
Mulvaney has also dropped several cases against payday lenders but insists the bureau is pursuing several others under its legal mandate to enforce fair lending laws.
But his step back from the CFPB’s efforts to tackle payday lending has enraged the bureau’s liberal allies and its former director, Richard Cordray, who issued the payday rule shortly before stepping down to run for Ohio governor.
Call for complaints about CFPB’s own actions
The CFPB has issued several formal requests for complaints on almost every aspect of its own regulatory and enforcement actions.
Banks, lenders and financial services firms have griped for years about the bureau’s aggressive oversight. But the official call for complaints will give the CFPB a wealth of documented rationale meant to justify major reversals in bureau policy.
The requests target the ways the CFPB crafts regulations, begins investigations, issues subpoenas and penalizes firms it believes have violated laws.
“Regulation by enforcement is done,” Mulvaney said in April. “Financial services providers should be allowed to know what the law is before being accused of breaking it.”
The 2010 Dodd-Frank Act empowers the CFPB director to request from the Federal Reserve as much money as they deem necessary each fiscal quarter, and the Fed is obligated to provide the funding.
Mulvaney requested $0 during his first fiscal quarter in charge of the bureau, saying he’d instead use the CFPB’s $177 million emergency reserve account with the Fed’s New York branch.
The fiscal hawk former congressman is mulling ways to slash the CFPB’s expenses, including personnel changes or relocations. He’s also floated reducing the amount of outside scholarship conducted by CFPB employees the bureau sponsors.
Mulvaney has tried to drag the CFPB as far as possible from its roots as Warren’s brainchild. He’s insisted the agency should be called by its formal legal name, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, despite the frequent use of shorter names by other federal entities.
The acting director has said he wants to bring the CFPB in line with noncontroversial regulators, such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
“I don’t want us to be Elizabeth Warren’s baby, because as long as you’re associated with one person, be it me or her, you’re never going to be taken as seriously as a bureaucracy, as an oversight regulator as you probably should,” Mulvaney said in April.
The bureau has also adopted a less flashy, more traditional logo, though its website still sports Cordray-era neon green.