Consumer bureau morale plummeted under Mulvaney: report

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Morale at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) plummeted under former acting chief Mick Mulvaney, according to a Wednesday report from a good-government nonprofit.

Staff sentiment at the polarizing financial regulator sunk sharply between 2017 and 2018 as Mulvaney, who served at the same time as director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, reeled in the agency’s activities, according to the Partnership for Public Service’s annual ranking of best places to work in the federal government.

The nonprofit ranked staff morale at 488 organizations by analyzing employee surveys filed to the federal government between April and June. The CFPB was among several agencies that gave the nonprofit additional data from its own surveys.

The CFPB’s morale score plunged from 77.9 in 2017 to 51.7 this year. The 25.2-point drop was the largest among the 27 midsize federal agencies — with between 1,000 and 14,999 employees — analyzed, and sunk the bureau’s ranking from seventh to 26th among those groups.

A CFPB spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. 

The CFPB’s steep drop in morale rankings coincided with whiplash and turmoil that seized the agency during Mulvaney’s temporary stint as chief. A fiercely conservative former congressman who opposed the CFPB’s existence, Mulvaney imposed major restraints on the bureau’s regulation of and legal actions against financial firms it oversees.

Mulvaney also sought to reshape the CFPB from an aggressive watchdog designed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to a less-imposing agency that engaged the financial industry on friendlier terms. His rebranding efforts included a name-change that could cost firms regulated by the agency $300 million.

Mulvaney’s efforts to reign in the CFPB enraged Democrats and liberal nonprofits that supported the agency under friendly leadership. He also alienated and upset career officials hired by Warren, who helped open and staff the bureau, and former CFPB Director Richard Cordray.

The turmoil left by Mulvaney is one of the major challenges facing the CFPB’s new director, Kathy Kraninger, who on Tuesday began her five-year term leading the agency.

Kraninger highlighted the differences between her responsibilities as director and Mulvaney’s temporary gig in a press conference Tuesday.

She said she’s planning a three-month listening tour of the bureau’s departments, including field offices across the country, to gauge employees’ concerns and priorities.

“There are different circumstances from when Director Mulvaney was here and my tenure,” Kraninger said, citing the “really challenging dynamics of the bureau.”

“I do recognize that the concerns have been out there. What I know is what I’ve heard from the press and I will certainly take stock of everything going forward from that,” Kraninger said.

Mulvaney hired several political appointees to oversee regulatory and enforcement work that was once led by career staffers aligned with Cordray.

One of those appointees — Eric Blankenstein, who serves as policy director for supervision, enforcement and lending — inspired an internal revolt in September when The Washington Post revealed anonymous blog posts he wrote in 2004 questioning the legitimacy of most reported hate crimes and whether using the N-word was inherently racist.

Agency veterans and union officials insisted that Blankenstein was unfit to oversee the CFPB’s racial discrimination cases if he held those views and demanded in vain that Mulvaney fire Blankenstein.

Kraninger on Tuesday sidestepped questions about whether she’d dismiss Blankenstein and declined to discuss personnel issues in public. But the new director hinted that Blankenstein’s old screeds would have little role in her decision.

“I will take people at face value and where they are today and what they’re doing for the bureau,” Kraninger said. “I have 1,500 employees so I’m not going to go back and look at everything they may have ever written in their lives.”

Tags Elizabeth Warren Mick Mulvaney Richard Cordray

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