A report last month issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO)  found that a survey of nonexecutive CFPB employees revealed “heightened concerns related to fair treatment, trust that employees can raise concerns related to fair treatment, trust that employees can raise concerns without fear of reprisal, confidence in complaint processes, and other matters.”  The report, entitled “Additional Actions Needed to Support a Fair and Inclusive Workplace,” contains the results of a GAO review of personnel management and organizational culture issues at the CFPB that was conducted at the request of members of Congress.

The request followed a series of hearings held by the House Financial Services Committee that was triggered by news reports of a CFPB internal report indicating that CFPB staff evaluations showed a pattern of racial disparities.  Those hearings included testimony from CFPB employees who alleged they received discriminatory treatment.  In May 2015, the Office of Inspector General for the CFPB and Fed issued a report of its  findings following an audit assessing the CFPB’s human resources-related operations and other efforts for equal employment that was also conducted in response to a congressional request.

The GAO’s survey of nonexecutive employees had a 62 percent response rate.  The issues surveyed by the GAO included employee views on favoritism and discrimination, complaint processes, trust and perceptions of management retaliation, and management accountability and commitment to addressing concerns.  The GAO found that for several questions in these areas, more than 25 percent of respondents had unfavorable views and the proportion of unfavorable responses was about 35 percent in some CFPB offices and for some minority respondents, female respondents, respondents 40 years of age and over, and respondents who did not specify a race.

The report describes steps the CFPB has taken in the last two years to respond to concerns about favoritism or unfair employee treatment and promote diversity and inclusion.  The GAO stated that the CFPB’s efforts to address employee concerns about diversity, inclusion, fairness and culture represent a significant management initiative but found that the CFPB lacks a strategy for comprehensively reporting about its initiative.

The GAO also found that while the CFPB has strengthened its complaint processes, it does not have sufficient mechanisms for obtaining and addressing employee feedback about such processes.  In its conclusion, the GAO stated that “many of the CFPB’s initiatives [to improve personnel management and promote a more diverse, inclusive, and fair workplace] have been implemented only recently, and because changing employee perceptions and behaviors can take time, it is too soon to know the effectiveness of the CFPB’s efforts in these areas.”

The GAO’s report recommends that Director Cordray take two actions. First, he should develop and implement a strategy for comprehensively reporting on the CFPB’s implementation goals and progress on its initiatives related to promoting diversity, inclusion, fairness, and a stronger organization culture.  Second, in coordination with representatives of the CFPB’s employee union, he should develop tools to collect more comprehensive employee feedback on the complaint processes to understand and remedy factors that may reduce employee confidence in such processes.

The report includes Director Cordray’s response to the GAO’s draft report which states that the CFPB accepts the GAO’s recommendations and describes the CFPB’s work in connection with the recommendations.