From the day it opened its doors, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been under attack by those who oppose a strong, committed consumer watchdog.
Since 2010, there have been repeated attempts by some lawmakers to shutter the agency or find ways to limit its funding and its mission.
As a result, CFPB’s noble mission and the professional workforce that carries it out have been unfairly maligned. The latest threat—a legal question about how the CFPB gets the money to keep its lights on—could bring the agency’s crucial work to a standstill.
In February, the Supreme Court accepted a case regarding the constitutionality of CFPB’s funding. Congress does not appropriate the CFPB’s operating budget, which instead comes from the Federal Reserve.
Meanwhile, over the last 12 years, frontline CFPB employees have built an impressive record of consumer protection.
But in this pitched political environment, their success—$16 billion in relief to taxpayers who were cheated—is rewarded not with accolades, but repeated attacks on their work protecting Americans who carry credit cards, secure mortgages, and take out loans.
Into this debate, I submit the voices of the professional accountants, auditors, examiners, and consumer finance experts who work at the CFPB and are represented by the National Treasury Employees Union.
I am proud to share their message: They are a dedicated, independent cop on the consumer beat. They work on behalf of seniors, veterans, college students, and families around the country.
CFPB employees feel strongly about using their expertise to prevent consumers from being unfairly lured into financial products that are not as advantageous as they may seem. The CFPB has improved the way transactions are handled, whether a consumer is buying a sweater, a car, a house, or a college education.
Terms are disclosed with more clarity and transparency, consumers are smarter about which options are best for them. Financial institutions know that deceit and fraud against consumers will be rooted out and those consumers will be made whole whenever possible.
Dedicated Civil Servants
As the president of the union that represents those frontline CFPB employees, I asked them to describe their workplace and their mission. They provided perspectives that so far have been missing from this debate.
For example, they intentionally chose a career of public service, forgoing a larger paycheck in the private sector. They gladly work for the taxpayers—not shareholders, not corporations, not profits.
They are particularly proud of the CFPB Office of Servicemember Affairs, which so far has received more than 250,000 complaints from members of the military, veterans, and their families.
The office has delivered more than $150 million in relief to active and retired military personnel after discovering problems with their mortgages, credit cards, student loans, payday and car-title loans, and other financial products.
Working for the public also carries a responsibility to look out for those who are most vulnerable to financial predators.
Middle- and lower-income families have received monetary compensation, seen their principals reduced, and their questionable debts cancelled because of the hard work of CFPB civil servants.
CFPB critics label the agency as a strong-armed regulator that throttles capitalism and treats all financial institutions like the enemy. Listen to the people who work there, and you’ll hear otherwise.
The penalties the bureau inflicts on institutions for wrongdoing may get the headlines—think Wells Fargo and the $2 billion back to consumers and $1.7 billion fine—but many more hours are put in trying to prevent fraud in the first place.
CFPB employees want companies to comply with laws and treat all customers fairly. Much of their time is spent working cooperatively alongside companies, not in confrontation.
CFPB examiners, for example, scrutinize the fine print from customers’ point of view and recommend changes that can help an institution avoid complaints.
And the bureau’s employees are worried for their future and the agency’s consumer protection mission.
While the courts work through the constitutionality of the agency’s funding and others debate the agency’s scope and mission, I ask that the strong track record of protection and advocacy CFPB employees have delivered be part of that discussion.
I believe the 192 million Americans who have been eligible for relief because of CFPB’s efforts would agree.
This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg Industry Group, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.
Tony Reardon is the national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents employees in 34 federal agencies and departments, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.