Andrew Rudalevige, the Thomas Brackett Reed Professor of Government at Bowdoin College, has an excellent summary of the legal battle over the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). It’s the Game of Vacancies at the CFPB! Watch out for the bureaucratic duel of conflicting statutes.
It’s not exactly “Game of Thrones” – federal budget procedures make it difficult to acquire decent-sized dragons – but there is a monstrous battle over who should be head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
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The Dodd-Frank Act, which created the CFPB, decreed that it should have a single Senate-confirmed director who would serve a fixed term and could not be fired by the president. It also funded the agency via the Federal Reserve instead of the regular budget process, limiting legislators’ ability to slash the CFPB’s budget during annual appropriations.
Most relevant to this week’s drama, the Dodd-Frank Act also states that the agency’s deputy director becomes its acting director in the event of a vacancy at the top. Last Friday, director Richard Cordray resigned, amid speculation that he might run for governor in Ohio. On his way out the door, he named his chief of staff, Leandra English, as deputy director – and thus, in short order, acting director.
FVRA vs. Dodd-Frank: Bureaucratic battle of the giant statutes
Or was she? President Trump turned to a different statute – the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998. The FVRA allows a deputy to fill a temporary vacancy, but also provides that the president can instead appoint another executive branch official in that deputy’s place, so long as that official has also been confirmed by the Senate. And so as soon as Cordray’s resignation took effect, Trump named Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney to do double duty at CFPB.