Sometimes words matter.
We’ve all spent countless hours in staff retreats, crafting mission statements that, we hope, will: (a) tell the world who we are; (b) tell the world how we’re going to change it; and (c) inspire us to work ceaselessly with our eyes firmly fixed on our big, audacious goals. Maybe we use it to orient new staff, or perhaps revisit at an annual retreat (although, heaven knows, no one really wants to reopen the document for another day-long wordsmithing exercise).
As you may have noticed, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has been renamed as the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (BCFP) by its new leader, Mick Mulvaney. Mr. Mulvaney has argued that this is because the CFPB didn’t really exist, because the original Dodd-Frank legislation referred to the “Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection.” (Actually, sections of the statute do call it the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.)
On first glance, Mulvaney’s wordsmithing seems like no big deal– although it seems odd to make “bureau,” as in bureaucracy, the first word in the agency’s title, since Mulvaney is committed to deregulatory changes.
More than this reshuffle in the title, Mulvaney has revised the agency’s mission statement by inserting these words: “regularly identifying and addressing outdated, unnecessary, or unduly burdensome regulations.” He did not eliminate the previous language about “empowering consumers,” but his insertion pushed “empowerment” down further in the mission statement—which, I submit, is an accurate reflection of his priorities.
When I worked at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (2012-14), I always found that the best way to explain this new entity to the public was that it put the consumer first. That approach won’t work anymore.
If I had the opportunity to ask one question of Mr. Mulvaney, it would be this: after you get rid of all the “outdated, unnecessary, or unduly burdensome regulations,” what–if any–will be left? And a follow-up: When the shedding of regulations is done, are we to wait for another financial crisis to learn what we have lost, and at what cost?