What’s in a Name? Consumer Bureau to Find Out

Posted June 12, 2018 9:03 p.m. EDT

Mick Mulvaney’s days at the helm of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau could be winding down. But he is not planning to leave quietly.

Next week, President Donald Trump is expected to nominate a replacement for Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget who has been acting head of the consumer bureau since late last year. Mulvaney, a former congressman from South Carolina, has relished curbing the agency’s power — curtailing its enforcement activity, easing up on payday lenders and urging the agency’s career staff to be more humble in their efforts to protect consumers.

A slow confirmation process could leave Mulvaney wearing two hats for an indefinite period, but he is already thinking about his legacy at the bureau. In a round-table discussion with reporters in the basement of the agency’s building in Washington on Tuesday, Mulvaney reflected on the future of the CFPB — or as he calls it, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection.

— What’s in a Name?

Mulvaney has long derided the mission of the consumer bureau, an agency borne of the 2008 financial crisis and created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank law. He has pointedly remarked that he is legally unable to shut the agency down, telling staff that “the law doesn’t allow that.” Yet he has succeeded in internally neutering much of the agency’s enforcement power and, perhaps most publicly, changing its name.

Unknown to most is that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is actually the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, at least according to Title X of the Dodd-Frank law, which created the agency.

Mulvaney has insisted on changing its nomenclature to reflect the agency’s statutory name and has had new signs installed in the lobby of the bureau. Over the last few days, workers have engaged in a small, organizational swap of letters and the CFPB offices now bear the acronym BCFP.

“We changed the name because it’s the name in the statute,” Mulvaney said Tuesday. “If your whole theme is going to be to follow the statute, I thought it was a good, small way, but a very visible way, to send a message.”

It is also a not-so-subtle dig at the bureau’s biggest champion, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who helped create the bureau.

But don’t worry about the cost, Mulvaney said. Changing the sign on the building was a wash, he said, because all they needed to do was rearrange the letters. The department is ordering new stationary but will continue to use paperwork with the old logo until it runs out.

“If it gives people a chance to have fun with the acronym and come up with all sorts of terrible names, that’s how they use their time,” Mulvaney said with a mischievous chuckle.

Already some on Twitter have given their own branding, including Best Consumer Fraud Place.

— Cutting Costs on the Way Out the Door

In his White House job, Mulvaney’s annual budget proposals are largely ignored by Congress, which views them as political messaging documents.

But at the consumer bureau, Mulvaney has real say over how much money is requested from the Federal Reserve, which controls the agency’s purse strings, and how much is spent. Next year, Mulvaney will be asking for a deep spending cut of about 20 percent. That would bring the bureau’s annual funding down to 2015 levels — or about $480 million.

Mulvaney said that a lot of the savings would be found in reducing the agency’s travel budget, which is in the tens of millions of dollars.

In January, Mulvaney requested $0 for the first three months of the year, saying the bureau was able to operate with leftover funds from enforcement actions and unspent money. He is among those who are pushing for Congress, not the Fed, to control the agency’s budget and has said lawmakers should have oversight of the bureau’s budget and function.

— Staying Out of Succession Planning

Mulvaney has taken a hands-on approach to reforming the consumer bureau in his half year in charge, but when it comes to picking his successor, he says he is purposely staying in the dark.

A shortlist emerged earlier in the year, and Mulvaney said that Trump had interviewed a finalist late last week who could be named as soon as next week. He said that he has walled himself off from the process so as not to taint the person and hamper their confirmation, given Mulvaney’s divisive tenure as the agency’s head.

But Mulvaney does think that his eventual successor will be someone in his mold.

“They’d be happy to see someone sort of continue what we’ve started here during my first half a year,” he said.

Asked whether Democrats might accelerate the confirmation process for his successor, Mulvaney demurred.

“What, do you think they’re trying to get rid of me?” he quipped.

— Back to the Budget Office. Probably.

He has enjoyed turning upside down an agency that he would close if he legally could, but Mulvaney says he has no desire to make it his full-time job. Directing the Office of Management and Budget, he said, is his Washington dream job.

“Does it make me pull my hair out? Yes,” Mulvaney said of his official post. “Do I beat my head against the wall when I see the deficit numbers? Yes.”

He added: “If I left that position, I don’t know who would be at the president’s table arguing for fiscal conservatism as fervently as I would.”

However, that does not mean Mulvaney would not change paths at the president’s direction. He has, on occasion, been rumored to be a potential chief of staff for Trump, and on Tuesday, he made clear that he would not turn it down if tapped.

“If the president asks you to be chief of staff, the answer is yes,” Mulvaney said. “Do I think I would be good at it? I have no idea.”