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Protection Racket

Jun 2, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 36 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis to protect Americans from predatory practices by financial institutions. That sounds like a noble goal, but asking a federal agency to police irresponsibility has almost always been a bad idea in practice. The CFPB has yet to defy our low expectations.

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In March, watchdog group Judicial Watch filed a FOIA lawsuit because the agency was refusing to turn over records relating to the remodeling of the agency’s Washington headquarters. The remodel started out costing an absurd $55 million before soaring over budget to an astronomical $145 million. In April, the Office of the Inspector General issued a blistering report about the CFPB’s Supervision, Enforcement, and Fair Lending division​—​the part of the agency directly responsible for launching investigations of financial institutions. The IG report detailed eight separate areas of concern, but the gist of the report is that CFPB’s investigations are excessively drawn out and often carried out in disregard of the agency’s own accountability measures.

Then last week, American Banker reported that the CFPB has made a questionable overhaul of its employee evaluation system. Employees were rated on a scale of one to five, and higher scores corresponded with larger pay and benefit increases. (Bear in mind, these are federal workers, so actually punishing them for poor performance evaluations was a nonstarter.) The results of the evaluations were awkward in terms of identity politics. The evaluation found that white employees received an average rating of 3.94, Asians received 3.81, Hispanics 3.69, and African Americans 3.63. Also notable was that the average for nonunion employees was 4.04, significantly higher than the 3.79 average rating for unionized employees. On the other hand, women received higher ratings than men and the agency’s younger employees outperformed its older employees.

In response to these disparities, CFPB head Rob Cordray announced a novel solution: Any employee who received a 3 or 4 in the last two years will receive the same salary and benefit increases as an employee who received a 5 on the evaluation. The move will cost the agency an additional $5 million. According to the Washington Examiner, Cordray explained the move to CFPB staffers saying the agency must hold itself “accountable to the same standards of fairness that we expect of our regulated entities.” 

If the CFPB expects America’s financial institutions to reward people regardless of their performance, they are well and truly doomed. And at this rate, taxpayers are going to need a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Protection Bureau.

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