An official from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau described this week’s moves as “transforming the way we engage.” Meanwhile, members of bureau’s Consumer Advisory Board called it a “firing.”
The contrasting views about this segment of the regulator surfaced through a CFPB blog post and a news release distributed by the National Consumer Law Center. Let’s begin with what was stated by the bureau’s Anthony Welcher, who indicated that the CFPB has started the process of “transforming” its stakeholder outreach and engagement work that includes transitioning from former modes of outreach to a new strategy to increase high quality feedback.
Earlier this year, Welcher recapped the bureau put out a request for information (RFI) on external affairs’ external engagements, a process that culminated last week.
“The comments we received informed our shift to expand external engagements and modify our advisory board and councils to be one focused tool in the evaluative process,” Welcher wrote in this blog post.
Welcher continued that the bureau will continue to fulfill its statutory obligations to convene the Consumer Advisory Board and will continue to provide forums for the Community Bank Advisory Council and the Credit Union Advisory Council. He added the bureau will continue these advisory groups and will use the current 2018 application and selection process to reconstitute the current advisory groups with new, smaller memberships.
“By both right-sizing its advisory councils and ramping up outreach to external groups, the bureau will enhance its ability to hear from consumer, civil rights and industry groups on a more regular basis,” he said.
“In addition to the advisory groups, the bureau will increase its strategic outreach to encourage in-depth conversations, sharing information and developing partnerships focused on consumers in underserved communities and geographies,” Welcher continued.
“These engagements will include regional town halls, roundtable discussions at the bureau’s headquarters with consumer finance experts and representatives, regional roundtables and regular national calls,” he went on to say.
Meanwhile, according to that news release from the National Consumer Law Center, Welcher also hosted a conference call to inform Consumer Advisory Board members and members of two other CFPB advisory boards that their terms were terminated and that they were not permitted to re-apply. The center indicated this action took place two days after 11 consumer advocates and academics shared their concern over the cancellation of the only two CAB meetings scheduled for this year.
“Firing the current CAB members is another move indicating Acting Director Mick Mulvaney is only interested in obtaining views from his inner circle, and has no interest in hearing the perspectives of those who work with struggling American families,” Consumer Advisory Board chair Ann Baddour said in the news release.
In a call with advisory board members this morning, Welcher, who the National Consumer Law Center called a “political hire” brought in by acting director Mick Mulvaney, cited these reasons for the changes:
“The bureau wanted to save a few hundred thousand dollars, which is estimated to be less than .08 percent of the agency’s overall budget. This is despite the fact that members on today’s call offered to pay to attend meetings from their own budgets,” the release said.
“The bureau cited responses to a Request for Information (RFI) on external engagement as a justification for the change. When pressed, Welcher admitted that the decision was made before the Request for Information had closed, and he could point to no RFI response calling for dissolving the advisory boards. A review of the RFI responses reveals there was no response calling for a restructuring or dissolution of the current advisory boards,” the release continued.
“The bureau cited wanting a more diverse, smaller and inclusive group of people involved. Yet, the advisory groups are inherently a small, diverse group of members, based on the Dodd-Frank Act. Members questioned how acting director Mulvaney could have come to this conclusion based on the fact that there had been no meaningful interaction with members,” the release went on to note.
“One of the additional explanations for the firing of the advisory board members is a ‘new’ plan to hold town hall meetings and intimate roundtable discussions — two long-standing practices of the CFPB — and therefore not a justification for firing over 60 committed and diverse volunteers,” the release added.
National Consumer Law Center attorney Chi Chi Wu and member of the bureau’s Consumer Advisory Board reiterated concerns at the close of the news release.
“Firing current members of the advisory board is a huge red flag in this administration’s ongoing erosion of critical consumer financial protections that help average families,” Wu said. “Apparently acting director Mulvaney is willing to listen to industry lobbyists who make campaign contributions, but not the statutorily appointed Consumer Advisory Board members.”
This development continues a string of major changes associated with the CFPB so far this year, including the end of the indirect auto finance guidance as well as four other major proposals from Mulvaney.