WASHINGTON — The acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said Thursday that he would not cede to outside pressure over agency personnel matters.
The remarks by Acting Director Mick Mulvaney in a global email to staff, obtained by American Banker, came after the CFPB’s employee union, several consumer groups and members of Congress have urged the firing of Eric Blankenstein, a political appointee at the agency who has come under fire for racially charged blog posts he wrote 14 years ago.
Mulvaney’s memo did not mention Blankenstein — the CFPB’s policy director for supervision, enforcement and fair lending — by name, but he said racial discrimination “will not be tolerated here.” Still, Mulvaney made clear that agency personnel decisions will be made in-house.
“Be assured I am not going to let any outside group dictate who works here or how I structure or manage the bureau,” he wrote. “Everyone receiving this email represents the bureau, not those on the outside. We do our work together, and we are either going to choose to do it very well, or we won’t. That is a choice we make together.”
The blog posts, written under a pen name, suggested that use of a racial slur does not necessarily make someone a racist and characterized most hate crimes as “hoaxes.” As first reported by the Washington Post, in one blog post, Blankenstein wrote: “Fine…let’s say they called him a n—-, would that make them racists, or just a—–s looking for the most convenient way to get under his skin?”
The blog spelled out the racial slur.
Revelation of the incendiary writings has caused an uproar at the agency, with senior staff pulling their support for Blankenstein and calling into question the agency’s planned restructuring of its fair-lending office.
CFPB union head Gail Wisley said in a recent email to Mulvaney that further reporting by the New York Times about comments made by Blankenstein two years ago appearing to defend so-called “birther” theories “amplifies the need for action regarding his leadership status.”
Wisely, president of the CFPB’s chapter of the National Treasury Employees Union, said the “NTEU believes that his role in the current reorganization of the fair lending division makes the entire plan highly suspect.”
“NTEU continues to believe it should be paused to allow for a full examination of its impact on the very consumers we are charged with protecting, and, Blankenstein must go,” she wrote in the Oct. 5 email.
In a statement last month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said Blankenstein “must be fired.” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, the ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, similarly called for his ouster.
Mulvaney said the agency has policies to combat racial discrimination in the workplace.
“I am committed to enforcing the law, and this absolutely includes laws and regulations prohibiting discriminatory treatment and harassment in the workplace. Racial discrimination is not only abhorrent, it is illegal and it won’t be tolerated here,” Mulvaney said. “We have an … [Equal Employment Opportunity] process in place (among other avenues) to protect you and ensure that everyone has a healthy, positive place to work. I encourage you to use these processes should you ever feel you have the need.”
He said he values employees’ “right to express personal views on your own time.”
“I respect your privacy, and I value the healthy exchange of diverse opinions. The bureau is better off for it. I encourage robust dialogue, but I expect that at all times we treat each other with professionalism, respect, and civility.”