Can Mick Mulvaney Bring Atonement And Credibility To The Scandal-Plagued CFPB?

Mick Mulvaney Getty Images/Astrid Riecken

Brian J. Wise Managing Partner, Wise Public Affairs
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Richard Cordray is out; Mick Mulvaney is in. Tapped for his second position in the Trump administration (terms to run concurrently), Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney has been given the responsibility of leading one of the most scandal-ridden agencies in the history of the federal government, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (or CFPB).

While many consider it a daunting task, it is a responsibility with a clear path forward. Director Mulvaney must bring atonement and accountability to an agency that had great promise but lost its way. Recent announcements by Director Mulvaney that call for a dedicated Office of Inspector General for the CFPB and a review of the agency’s policies are an important start, and worthy of commendation, but simply appointing an Inspector General does not go far enough.

Given the evidence and allegations of rampant abuse and even fraud at the CFPB that have impacted American businesses, consumers, and the Bureau’s own employees, Director Mulvaney must engage in a campaign to bring credibility and legitimacy to the Bureau. There are two main goals he must accomplish to be successful. First, it is important that he undertake a thorough review of all allegations of human rights abuses at the Bureau. Second, it is critical that Director Mulvaney conduct a comprehensive audit of all past examinations which have led to enforcement actions and/or settlements to ensure the agency can move forward untainted. If he fails in this mission, the scandals that once weighed down President Obama, Senator Warren, and Richard Cordray will quickly become the yoke of President Trump and Mick Mulvaney.

The scandals that have plagued the CFPB during its first eight years of existence range from independent reports detailing rampant racism and discrimination throughout the Bureau, to programs that secretly collected credit card information on up to 95% of Americans. Cost overruns for construction of a headquarters that dwarfed the cost per square foot of the most luxurious casinos in Las Vegas only added to the feeling that the executive leadership at the agency, led by former Director Richard Cordray, was not acting in the best interest of American taxpayers, much less American consumers.

These scandals have been the focus of dozens of congressional hearings, but they have hardly been covered in the mainstream press. Shocking since, as a former Network News Producer, I know first-hand that any other time racism is alleged in this country, especially by government agency heads, editors can’t get their crews to the story fast enough. But even though CFPB employees have evidence and numerous independent reports from the Government Accountability Office, the Office of Inspector General, and Delloitte to corroborate their allegations, there have been few major news stories talking about the hundreds of federal employees being subjected to working in departments that CFPB management allegedly called “the Plantation,” and highly qualified applicants of color who, according to Ms. Florine Williams, a former Senior Equal Employment Specialist in the CFPB’s Office of Civil Rights, were allegedly passed over for much less qualified white acquaintances of senior managers.

Even more disturbing, when minority employees, even those like Ms. Williams in the CFPB’s own Office of Civil Rights, would bring attention to the racism, discrimination, and corruption within the CFPB, management would aggressively retaliate against those employees, in many cases employees would be disciplined and driven them out of their positions – as was the case with Ms. Cassandra Jackson, a former CFPB examiner.

Ms. Jackson’s story is not unlike the story of Ms. Williams, or of many others at the CFPB, though their courage to tell their stories is a testament to the strength and resolve of these public servants. During Ms. Jackson’s employment she claims, and fellow employees validate, she was the subject of severe racial and gender discrimination. Perhaps even more shocking, in the course of her work, Ms. Jackson states she was pressured to falsify the official report and alter the evidence in an examination in order to justify an enforcement action and $10 million settlement against Ace Cash Express. If proven, this coercion by senior management in the legal and enforcement departments of the CFPB would amount to criminal fraud. At the very least, this allegation calls into question the legitimacy of every examination undertaken by the CFPB since it was set up by Elizabeth Warren in 2010 after passage of the Dodd-Frank Consumer Protection Act.

In the wake of these scandals, the leadership of Director Mulvaney is a welcome development, and his recent calls for more accountability are exactly what the bureau needs. But Mr. Mulvaney has yet to take the opportunity to atone for the sins of his predecessors at the CFPB, and address the systemic and rampant racism, discrimination, corruption, and retaliation that CFPB employees have faced for the past eight years as they dedicated their careers to a mission they believed in: helping consumers.

The way forward is clear. By acknowledging the problems of the past, forcing the agency to accept responsibility for its actions under the leadership of Elizabeth Warren and Director Richard Cordray, and holding accountable members of management who were responsible for grave violations of the public trust, Director Mulvaney can bring legitimacy and a renewed credibility to an agency that has the potential to be a valuable protective force for American consumers.

Brian J. Wise is the president of the US Consumer Coalition, a national consumer advocacy organization which promotes expanded consumer choice and freedom. The US Consumer Coalition runs the Consumer Protection Initiative (www.CFPBReform.org), serving as a CFPB watchdog.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.