Propublica, February 15, 2018: The CFPB’s declaration of dependence
In just over two months at the helm of the CFPB, Mulvaney has launched a sweeping set of initiatives. The agency is conducting a comprehensive internal review of enforcement and supervision. Mulvaney ordered a survey of financial firms to get their sense of the “burdens” that the CFPB’s investigative process places on them. He split the fair lending oversight operations in two, putting the heads of the office under his direct control. And he requested a budget of zero dollars, which was something of a gimmick since the bureau has a sufficient reserve, but a statement viewed as symbolic.
The CFPB was conceived as an independent agency, and under the previous administration, staffers took pains to keep the White House at arm’s length. “We were very careful to avoid aligning ourselves with the Obama White House,” said Elizabeth Corbett, who was acting chief of staff under Cordray. “We would take meetings if asked, but never shared anything we wouldn’t share with Congress.”
Under Mulvaney, by contrast, there’s no pretense that the bureau should be independent. For example, he ordered a report on which of Trump’s executive orders the agency could voluntarily comply with. And Mulvaney himself, of course, is not separate from the White House, given that the other agency he heads, OMB, is part of the executive office of the president.
The story the staffers tell to Propublica reveals not just a drastic shift in philosophy; it’s an anatomy of a bureaucratic immobilization — one more often accomplished by well-placed monkey wrenches than by a change of laws.