CFPB Should Let the Sunshine In to their Closed-Door Meetings
March 17, 2014 -
To mark “Sunshine Week,” a national initiative launched by the media to promote open government, Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) is calling on CFPB Director Richard Cordray to end the bureau’s closed-door meeting policy for its four advisory councils.
“Instead of operating behind closed doors, it’s time for the CFPB to live up to its oft-stated commitment to transparency and openness. In the interest of true, genuine transparency and open government, Director Cordray can and should use ‘Sunshine Week’ to take immediate steps that bring the CFPB into the sunlight,” said Chairman Hensarling.
The Bipartisan Policy Center has also criticized the CFPB for closing its advisory group meetings to the public.
The CFPB claims on its website that “Transparency is at the core of our agenda…You deserve to know what we're doing for the American public and how we are doing it.”
However, four advisory groups created by the CFPB conduct virtually all of their business behind closed doors – refusing requests by members of the public and even a member of Congress to attend them. The meetings are also closed to the press.
For example, the agenda for the CFPB’s Consumer Advisory Board’s last meeting shows only two hours – out of two days’ worth of meetings – were open to the public.
The CFPB’s advisory groups – which include the Community Bank Advisory Council, the Credit Union Advisory Council, and the Academic Research Council in addition to the Consumer Advisory Board – are made up of industry representatives, consumer activists and academics.
“What goes on at these meetings?” asked Congressman Sean Duffy (R-WI), a member of the Financial Services Committee who requested to attend the Consumer Advisory Board’s February meeting. “If the CFPB is as committed to transparency as it claims, then why was I denied entry when I asked to attend?”
CFPB Director Cordray has said the meetings are closed to the public because the Federal Advisory Committee Act, a sunshine law passed in 1972, does not apply to the Bureau. Yet, by law, all federal agencies are subject to the Act with the exception of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee. The CFPB is an independent agency housed within the Federal Reserve, but the Fed exercises no control over the CFPB or its advisory groups.
The Dodd-Frank Act that created the CFPB also does not exempt the Bureau from the federal sunshine law. In fact, nothing prevents the CFPB director from opening the meetings up to the public.
“Why deny the public the right to observe these meetings?” Congressman Robert Pittenger (R-NC) asked Director Cordray at a January hearing. Director Cordray replied that the advisory group meetings are closed to the public so “we can speak candidly about matters that are not yet public that the Bureau is working on, including things like enforcement actions and the like.”
That response is “deeply troubling,” Chairman Hensarling wrote in a Feb. 4 letter to Director Cordray. “Confidential information related to pending investigations or enforcement actions is potentially market moving and could be used for financial gain. Consequently, I am concerned that the Bureau would release confidential information to persons who do not work for the Bureau and could be competitors or future legal adversaries of the party subject to the enforcement action.”
Director Cordray has yet to respond to Chairman Hensarling’s letter.
In addition to closing the meetings to the public, the CFPB instructs its employees to keep details about agency events on their work calendars to a minimum in order to shield information about their activities from the press and public.
Click here to watch this week’s “Sunday Video Message” from the Financial Services Committee with Chairman Hensarling discussing the CFPB’s lack of transparency and Sunshine Week.