Where Did All the Statutory Offices Go?

This is an additional post in a series on how CFPB develops policy: the vision , the reality, and the future.

In prior blogs, we’ve reviewed what the Dodd-Frank Act had to say about the structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and  how the CFPB has implemented those statutory requirements.  Before we go on to discuss our vision of what a CFPB that fully centered the voices of marginalized communities would look like, we want to look more closely at changes to the organizational chart under the Trump Administration.

2017 CFPB Organizational Chart

The CFPB’s November 2017 public-facing organizational chart is below.  The statutory offices and functional units are in green. Included in the green are the Advisory Boards and Councils office, responsible for the statutorily-required Consumer Advisory Board, and both the Community Affairs office and the Financial Empowerment office.  Community Affairs and Financial Empowerment each performed some of the functions of Dodd-Frank § 1013(b)(2). 

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The 2017 organizational chart provided both visibility and accountability to the Dodd-Frank Act’s “special populations” and other interested parties.  For example, major consumer advocacy groups across the country as well as faith-based coalitions and legal services organizations knew they could contact the Office of Community Affairs if they had questions about a CFPB initiative.  Groups working on student lending, financial education, or with older Americans or servicemembers could also see at a glance whom they were supposed to call.

2020 CFPB Organizational Chart

Advocates looking at the current organizational chart, below, would have difficulty discerning if they have a voice inside the CFPB.  Less than half the statutorily-mandated offices are visible now—the green has shrunk.  In its place, we have yellow—representing positions filled through external hires since 2017 (or vacancies, where the yellow is cross-hatched with blue)—and purple—new offices created under the Trump Administration.   

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The offices of Advisory Boards and Councils, Community Affairs, Financial Empowerment, Financial Education, Older Americans, Servicemembers, and Students and Young Consumers are no longer on the public-facing organizational chart. These offices still exist, all suboffices inside the new Consumer Education and External Affairs division.  But, unlike the offices shown on the organizational chart, the leadership of the new suboffices is not named.  Even if a diligent advocate clicks through every link on the CFPB’s organizational chart, the advocate won’t discover who heads the office or if it is staffed. 

All but Advisory Boards and Councils are now suboffices of the Consumer Education Office.  The website informs us, “The Consumer Education Office provides information for American consumers to consider in their financial decision-making process .”   Providing information to consumers is not the same, for example, as “providing . . . technical assistance regarding the offering and provision of consumer financial products or services to traditionally underserved consumers and communities,” as Dodd-Frank Act § 1013(b)(2) requires of Community Affairs, or coordinating state and federal efforts to protect servicemembers, as the Dodd-Frank Act § 1013(c)(1) requires the Office of Servicemember Affairs to do.  There is no recognition in this formulation that the statutory offices have obligations beyond consumer education, as every statutory office or functional unit does.  There is also no invitation in this formulation to marginalized communities, as distinct from the general public, to engage with the CFPB. 

This de-emphasis on marginalized communities and vulnerable consumers is carried through in other changes, as well.  The former External Affairs office called Community Affairs, now located within the Office of Stakeholder Management, has been re-named “Public Engagement,” subtly shifting its focus from traditionally underserved communities into something much less targeted.  And, while we have lost visibility into the statutorily-mandated functions of financial education, older Americans, and servicemember affairs, among others, the new Office of Innovation, reporting to the Deputy Director, which grants applications for waivers of statutory requirements in order to promote competition, innovation, and consumer access, is clearly visible on the organizational chart.

CRREA Project’s Take

Looking at these charts, it’s indisputable that the leadership structure of the CFPB has been fundamentally reshaped over the last three years.  Both structure and personnel have shifted significantly.  A new administration will face significant time and resource challenges if it wants to “turn back the clock.”