This Tuesday and Wednesday, the House Financial Services Committee marked up several bills that would have important positive impacts on the way the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) operates. Three of those bills would implement changes that mirror recommendations made in the Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC) September 2013 report, The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Measuring the Progress of a New Agency.
The Bureau Guidance Transparency Act (H.R. 4811), introduced by Rep. Stutzman (R-IN) and passed on a 35 to 24 vote, would require the Bureau to provide a public notice and comment period for any guidance it issues and to make available all information it uses to arrive at its decisions. This echoes the BPC report, which recommended that “the CFPB seek greater input from a diverse group of interested parties, including both consumer groups and regulated entities, before the issuance of substantive guidance. … A ‘notice-and-comment like’ procedure would be beneficial for those impacted by guidance and also would help protect the CFPB from legal challenges that unsolicited guidance can invite if issued without the benefit of comment.”1
The BPC report also said that “[t]he Bureau should have all of the other trademarks of accountability that independent bank regulators share” and that “a separate office of inspector general be established for the CFPB.”2 The bipartisan CFPB-IG Act of 2013 (H.R. 3770), introduced by Rep. Stivers (R-OH) and Rep. Walz (D-MN), and passed by a 39 to 20 margin, would do just that, creating a separate inspector general that would be appointed by the president.
Finally, the Bureau Advisory Committee Transparency Act (H.R. 4262), introduced by Rep. Duffy (R-WI) and agreed to by voice vote, would apply the requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) to the Bureau. FACA contains several requirements, including a general mandate that advisory committees hold open meetings, as well as chartering, public involvement, and reporting rules that are designed to promote committee transparency. The BPC report recommended that the CFPB “demonstrate its commitment to transparency by emulating the transparency practices of other federal agencies,”3 which includes open advisory committee meetings. Last month, in fact, the Bureau announced that all of its outside advisory board and council meetings would both be open to the public and broadcast over the Internet. While BPC does not take a specific position on the application of FACA to the CFPB, greater meeting transparency is a sign of progress.
Each of these three bills received some degree of bipartisan support, an indication that they, or similar bills promoting the same core concepts, might be able to successfully make their way through Congress. The ideas behind the three bills are among more than 30 common-sense recommendations made in the BPC report, some of which have already been implemented by the CFPB. We welcome these additional steps in the right direction and encourage their consideration before the full House of Representatives.
1 Rick Fischer and Eric Rodriguez, “The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Measuring the Progress of a New Agency,” Bipartisan Policy Center, September 2013, p. 20. Available here.
2 Ibid., p. 43.
3 Ibid., p. 40.