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Mulvaney Further Scales Back CFPB Role As An Aggressive Watchdog


President Trump's chosen leader of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has dismayed advocates of consumers. Mick Mulvaney leads the agency set up to protect people from predatory practices by financial companies. By law, the bureau has to meet twice a year with an advisory board made up of consumer advocates and lawyers and experts. And now Mulvaney is dismantling that board. NPR's Chris Arnold has more.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: As a congressman, Mulvaney sponsored legislation to destroy the bureau. Now he's running it and scaling back its role as an aggressive watchdog. Consumer advocates say they've worked with the bureau on important issues - unfair student loan practices, predatory lenders going after senior citizens.

But since Mulvaney arrived late last year, that dialogue, they say, has been cut off. Mulvaney has canceled those required meetings. And then this week, board members were told to get on a conference call.

KATHLEEN ENGEL: We were told that the consumer advisory board members were all going to be relieved of their duties.

ARNOLD: That's Suffolk University law professor Kathleen Engel, who's been serving on the board.

ENGEL: It's deeply distressing. And it's quite clear that we've been fired.

ARNOLD: A CFPB spokesman says nobody has been fired. The bureau is just restructuring its advisory boards. At a later date, smaller and supposedly more efficient boards will be put together. Engel calls that, though, a smokescreen. She says board members like her won't get to meet with bureau staffers and do the work they've been doing. So she says they've been effectively disbanded.

ENGEL: This is one piece of a larger effort by Mulvaney to completely eviscerate the CFPB.

ARNOLD: Mulvaney's top spokesman responded in an angry-sounding statement - quote, "the outspoken members of the Consumer Advisory Board seem more concerned about protecting their taxpayer-funded junkets to Washington D.C. and being wined and dined by the bureau than protecting consumers." We read that to Kathleen Engel.

ENGEL: Wow. I had not seen that statement. They didn't share it with us. The - to call it a junket is incredibly offensive. We are working really hard.

ARNOLD: Christopher Peterson is a former enforcement attorney at the bureau. He says the advisory board played an important role. And he says this latest controversy is reflective of the combative style of this administration.

CHRISTOPHER PETERSON: This is an example of the kinds of governance we've seen in Washington since the Trump administration came to town, where there's a lot of fighting and insulting and chaos, but not that much is actually getting done to do the basic job of the government.

ARNOLD: Peterson says the whole move here to blow up the advisory boards just seems very unnecessary.

PETERSON: What is so difficult about just sitting down and listening to the public and these groups for a little bit to see their perspective and talk to them? Instead of doing that, he fired them all.

ARNOLD: So critics say the bureau is canceling meetings and firing consumer advocates who thought they were on the same team. Meanwhile, advocacy groups have been tracking Mulvaney's calendar, and they say he and his top lieutenants have been meeting with the financial firms that Mulvaney's supposed to be policing. Chris Arnold, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: June 6, 2018 at 9:00 PM PDT
A previous headline incorrectly referred to the CFPB as the CFBD.
Chris Arnold
NPR correspondent Chris Arnold is based in Boston. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. He joined NPR in 1996 and was based in San Francisco before moving to Boston in 2001.