Mick Mulvaney, the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said Friday that the agency fired more than 60 members of three advisory boards because the boards were simply too big.
Mulvaney also said he wants some future advisory board meetings to be held in private because he fears information will be leaked to the media.
The consumer, community bank and credit union advisory board members were fired Wednesday via a conference call by Anthony Welcher, a political appointee and the CFPB’s policy adviser for external affairs.
Mulvaney defended the firings at a public forum in Topeka, Kan., on elder abuse, and said the boards will be reconstituted.
“First of all, the boards are statutory, we have to do them, we are absolutely going to continue to do them,” Mulvaney said. “They are much bigger and got to be much bigger under the previous administration of the bureau than I was comfortable with.”
Mulvaney said the large size of the panels and the public nature of certain advisory board meetings had made some members unwilling to be candid about their views. His comments indicated some participants wanted to be able to speak freely without other members present.
“I actually got feedback from people saying, you know what, these groups are too big, they’re not comfortable being candid, and they would actually like some private meetings,” he said. (Meetings of the Consumer Advisory Board typically have included an hourlong public hearing at the outset, followed by a longer portion of the meeting held in private.)
“There is actually some good information that can pass when you sort of turn the cameras off,” he said. “Not all the time, but sometimes it’s nice to have a discussion that you think is not going to leak out.”
Mulvaney has asked the CFPB’s inspector general to investigate leaks, a source of frustration during his tenure. He warned the agency’s staff in a memo on April 12 that he would pursue disciplinary and other actions against employees who leaked confidential information.
The CFPB has offered several reasons for the firings of advisory board members, including that they were a cost-savings move.
On Wednesday, a CFPB spokesman called the meetings “junkets.”
“The outspoken members of the Consumer Advisory Board seem more concerned about protecting their taxpayer funded junkets to Washington, DC and being wined and dined by the Bureau than protecting consumers,” John Czwartacki said in an emailed statement.
Both Welcher and Mulvaney said that they had received comments suggesting that holding town hall meetings and roundtable discussions with stakeholders would be a better format than mandated twice-yearly advisory board meetings.
To that end, Mulvaney said he planned to spend more time “going out into the field and doing this.”
“I was dead serious when I said we are going to spend more time going out into the field,” he said.
However, he also seemed to conflate future town-hall events with the Consumer Advisory Board, which is the only board mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act to meet twice a year.
Mulvaney’s predecessor, Richard Cordray, convened dozens of field hearings and town halls, almost on a monthly basis, that typically coincided with the release of a proposed rulemaking, a new study or some other finding that the agency wanted to share with the public.
Cordray also regularly attended all of the meetings of the three advisory boards.
The public forum in Topeka was the first public field hearing that Mulvaney has held since he was named in late November by President Trump to be acting director of the agency.
He also said the CFPB had no intention of cutting off input from consumer advocates.
“We’re trying to figure out a way to get people to be more willing to give us information, that’s one thing that we’re looking at, the statute is another thing we’re looking at,” he said. “All I ask is that you give us a chance to prove to people that that is the intention, not to discontinue input to the bureau, it’s simply going about it in a different way than the previous administration.”
“The group, I think it was the same 30 people we saw a couple of times a year,” Mulvaney said.”I can see more people like that today than I could in a year’s worth of those meetings.”
He continued: “I recognize the fact that I’m [in] a somewhat controversial and politically charged position. But I do ask folks to give us a chance to prove that we are interested in continuing to get information from industry and from consumers alike.”