“It would be hard to find a Federal agency where the gap between regulatory power and public accountability is greater,” stated Wayne Abernathy, Executive Vice President for Financial Institutions Policy and Regulatory Affairs at the American Bankers Association, during his testimony about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau before the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations (the “Subcommittee”). Despite the Bureau’s repeated assertions that it is a “transparent” and “data-driven” agency, Abernathy countered that “the Bureau, as it is currently structured, is governed by one person with no peers, no one in the agency who can address him without ultimately bending to that one person’s policy judgment, knowing that at some point the discussion will end with, ‘Yes sir.’”
Abernathy argued that the Bureau’s practices do not live up to its stated goal of placing a high priority on the role of data in policymaking and the importance of transparency in the use of that data. The Dodd-Frank Act extended impressive authority to the CFPB for requiring information and gathering data, but is missing effective guidelines for the oversight of exercising that authority.
On various occasions, Abernathy said, the CFPB has failed to disclose data on which the Bureau bases its research studies, or it manufactured data that did not exist. These practices have undercut the role of data in preventing regulatory abuses, and have weakened the contribution of information to the development of policymaking. Abernathy requested an inquiry by the Subcommittee into the CFPB’s data practices and the public’s access to the data on which the Bureau relies for its decisions.
Finally, Abernathy recommended that “[t]he governance of the Bureau should be changed from a sole directorship to governance by a bipartisan commission.” Abernathy believes that this structural change would allow the “public disclosure of data to be provided in full and ample context consistent with public review, oversight, and accountability.”