Con­sumer chief ousts Obama-era ad­vis­ers

Some call Mul­vaney’s moves hos­tile takeover

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - NEWS - Kevin McCoy

To Pres­i­dent Trump’s con­sumer chief, the lat­est in a se­ries of changes to the Con­sumer Fi­nan­cial Pro­tec­tion Bureau is part of a nor­mal tran­si­tion from one White House ad­min­is­tra­tion to an­other. To some con­sumer ad­vo­cates, the moves in­stead rep­re­sent a hos­tile takeover that un­der­mines the fed­eral watchdog’s mis­sion.

Mick Mul­vaney, the con­sumer bureau’s act­ing di­rec­tor as well as the White House bud­get chief, this week over­saw a sig­nif­i­cant shake-up of the bureau’s Con­sumer Ad­vi­sory Board and sim­i­lar ad­vi­sory coun­cils for com­mu­nity banks and credit unions.

The groups will be re­con­sti­tuted with “new, smaller mem­ber­ships,” ac­cord­ing to an email bureau of­fi­cials sent to the groups’ mem­bers.

Sched­uled for com­ple­tion in the fall, changes will in­clude re­gional town hall meet­ings, round­table dis­cus­sions at the bureau’s Washington, D.C., head­quar­ters and else­where, and other ef­forts in a “new strat­egy to in­crease high-qual­ity feed­back” on con­sumer is­sues, the email said.

“We don’t plan on hav­ing any ad­di­tional meet­ings un­til the ap­point­ment of new board and coun­cil mem­bers,” the email added. “Un­til such time, ex­ist­ing ad­vi­sory board and coun­cil mem­bers may con­tinue to serve their ex­ist­ing terms.”

There was no quiet leave-tak­ing for the jilted mem­bers, many of them vet­er­ans of lo­cal con­sumer pro­tec­tion groups across the na­tion. They called the shake-up a mass fir­ing.

“Fir­ing cur­rent mem­bers of the ad­vi­sory board is a huge red flag in this ad­min­is­tra­tion’s on­go­ing ero­sion of crit­i­cal con­sumer fi­nan­cial pro­tec­tions that help av­er­age fam­i­lies,” said Chi Chi Wu, a mem­ber of the Con­sumer Ad­vi­sory Board and an at­tor­ney for the Na­tional Con­sumer Law Cen­ter.

The Bos­ton-based cen­ter added ad­vi­sory group mem­bers were told “that their terms were ter­mi­nated, and they were not per­mit­ted to reap­ply.”

The for­mal an­nounce­ment of the changes was de­liv­ered by An­thony Welcher, a con­sumer bureau pol­icy ad­viser with a back­ground as a real es­tate en­tre­pre­neur. The ac­tion came two days af­ter 11 con­sumer ad­vo­cates and aca­demics held a tele­phone con­fer­ence with me­dia rep­re­sen­ta­tives to voice con­cern over the can­cel­la­tion of the only two Con­sumer Ad­vi­sory Board meet­ings sched­uled for 2018.

Al­though Mul­vaney of­ten at­tacked the con­sumer bureau be­fore be­com­ing its act­ing di­rec­tor, he has dis­missed claims that he now is “gut­ting” the fed­eral watchdog from within as a false nar­ra­tive re­peated by those who can’t ac­cept Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­dency.

“Yes, I mean to change the bureau. That’s what hap­pens when a new ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­points new lead­er­ship,” Mul­vaney wrote in Fe­bru­ary on USA TO­DAY’s ed­i­to­rial page. “And we’re look­ing for a lighter reg­u­la­tory hand: bring­ing com­mon sense and bal­ance to gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion is a cen­tral tenet of this ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

ALEX BRANDON/AP

Mick Mul­vaney, ap­pointed by Pres­i­dent Trump, promised to shrink the CFPB’s man­date.

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