Konczal on GOP vs CFPB

Mike Konczal looks at why the GOP will try to block Richard Cordray as the new director of the CFPB. He notes that one of the main GOP goals for changing the CFPB is to “Replace the single Director with a board to oversee the Bureau. This would prevent a single person from dominating the Bureau and provide a critical check on the Bureau’s authority.” Konczal writes:

Breaking them down, in practice the CFPB is going to have a large operation, with people overseeing various parts of the regulatory framework. It’s not clear what problem having a board instead of a Director is meant to solve, and it is very clear that having a board instead of a Director will throw sand into the gear of the Bureau working well. Subtly, it will reduce the presence of the Bureau among all other banking regulators, as they all have a clear chief agent who coordinates the activities of the agency. Not so subtly, it’ll cause in-fighting and a lack of focus during its crucial first years.

I actually don’t think this is unclear at all. A single director is a public figure and the face for the agency. At times when policies are seeking to be changed or achieved or, most importantly, advocated forcefully for, that person is the vehicle for the bureau’s interaction with the public. Elizabeth Warren has been a highly public figure in recent months as she shepherded the CFPB in its early days. She was repeatedly called before Congress and waged pitched battles in hearings with churlish House GOP members. If the CFPB had its director replaced with a board, the bureau would lose its public figure, lose its singular point of opposition with Republicans who don’t want consumers to have financial protection, and lose the ability to effectively respond to political attacks.

One example of how panels disempower organizational standing is the NLRB. No one can name a single member of the board and since it’s bipartisan, both labor and management always have people to adopt their desired positions, making the general stance of the board itself incoherent. A different example would be the Catfood Commission, comprised of 18 members, but represented in the press as largely the project of two people, co-chairs Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles. Does anyone know or care what Xavier Becerra did on the Catfood Commission? No, of course not, because individual leaders are much more appealing and easy to understand than participants in a larger panel. Even in a place where a group of people were supposed to come up with some conclusion, the work of each parties’ lead member was elevated, because it’s easier to understand a viewpoint advocated by a single figure or two theoretically dueling participants. In the case of the Catfood Commission the alleged novelty of a Democrat and Republican coming to a grand compromise about reducing the deficit was what was supposed to sell the whole thing. What is left behind from that work is that the Bowles-Simpson vision failed to pass the commission on whole. These examples show both the inefficacy of boards to do the work of government agencies and the tendency, when it’s relevant to elites, for the position of individual members of a board to be given primacy over the larger work of a board.

All that is to say that it’s fairly straightforward why the GOP wants to remove the director of the CFPB and replace it with a destined to be ineffective board of directors.

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