The CFPB’s newly-released strategic plan for fiscal years 2018-2022 reflects the restrained approach to the CFPB’s exercise of its authority previously outlined by Mick Mulvaney, President Trump’s designee as CFPB Acting Director.

In his message introducing the strategic plan, Mr. Mulvaney stated:

If there is one way to summarize the strategic changes occurring at the Bureau, it is this: we have committed to fulfill the Bureau’s statutory responsibilities, but go no further.  Indeed, this should be an ironclad promise for any federal agency; pushing the envelope in pursuit of other objectives ignores the will of the American people…[and] also risks trampling upon the liberties of our citizens, or interfering with the sovereignty or autonomy of the states or Indian tribes.  I have resolved that this will not happen at the Bureau.”

Perhaps a visible indicator of Mr. Mulvaney’s restrained approach is the length of the final strategic plan as contrasted with the CFPB’s draft strategic plan issued for comment in October 2017.  While the draft plan was 34 pages long, the final plan consists of 15 pages.

More significantly, the differences between Mr. Mulvaney’s views on how the CFPB should exercise its authorities and the views of former CFPB Director Cordray are reflected in the final plan’s description of the CFPB’s goals, objectives, and strategies.  Both plans list the five purposes for which the CFPB is authorized to exercise its authorities as set forth in Section 1021 of Dodd-Frank.  However, unlike Mr. Cordray’s draft plan which described the CFPB’s goals and objectives more expansively than the purposes listed in Section 1021, Mr. Mulvaney’s final plan closely tracks the five purposes in two of the plan’s three strategic goals and five of its strategic objectives.

Other differences include:

  • Emphasis on reducing regulatory burden.  To attain the CFPB’s first goal of “ensur[ing] that all consumers have access to markets for consumer financial products and services,” one of the CFPB’s primary objectives is to “regularly identify and address outdated, unnecessary, or unduly burdensome regulations in order to reduce unwarranted regulatory burdens.”  While the identification of such regulations was included the draft plan’s list of how Dodd-Frank authorizes the CFPB to exercise its authorities, it was not one of the draft plan’s objectives.
  • Emphasis on increased transparency in rulemaking and cost-benefit analysis. Another of the CFPB’s primary objectives for attaining its first goal is to “ensure that markets for consumer financial services and products operate transparently and efficiently.”  Among the CFPB’s strategies for achieving that objective is to “pursue an efficient, transparent, and inclusive approach to developing or revising regulations” and “carefully evaluate the potential benefits and costs of contemplated regulations.”  The draft plan called for “an efficient and evidence-based approach to developing new regulations and evaluating and revising existing regulations.”  While the draft plan noted by way of background that the CFPB assesses the costs and benefits of potential or existing regulations, it did not include conducting cost-benefit analyses among the CFPB’s strategies for achieving its objectives.
  • In what might be read as veiled criticism of the CFPB’s approach under former Director Cordray, the CFPB’s objectives and strategies in the final plan for attaining its third goal of “fostering operational excellence” include “safeguard[ing] the Bureau’s information and systems” and “align[ing] resources to mission and promote budget discipline.”  In addition, in describing how the CFPB will achieve its mission and vision, the plan states that the CFPB will act “with humility and moderation.”

The CFPB’s strategic plan is required by the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (GPRA) and the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010.  These laws require every federal agency to issue a new strategic plan by the first Monday in February following the year in which the term of the President commences.  Accordingly, since President Trump’s term began in January 2017, the CFPB was required to issue its new strategic plan by February 5, 2018.  In a blog post yesterday, Professor Jeff Sovern suggested that, in light of his “temporary” status, it is “weird” that Mr. Mulvaney has created a strategic plan.  As Acting Director, Mr. Mulvaney was fulfilling the CFPB’s statutory duty by issuing a final new strategic plan.

Professor Sovern also suggested that it was improper for Mr. Mulvaney to replace former Director Cordray’s strategic plan.  (Presumably, the plan that Professor Sovern thinks Mr. Mulvaney improperly replaced is Mr. Corday’s draft plan rather than his FY 2013-2017 plan.)  An OMB circular that provides guidance to federal agencies on strategic planning states that a strategic plan should reflect “Administration priorities or other emerging factors.”  Thus, it is entirely appropriate for the strategic plan issued by Mr. Mulvaney to reflect the priorities of the Trump Administration rather than those of the Obama Administration (as were reflected in Mr. Cordray’s plan).

Finally, it should be noted that Mr. Mulvaney’s plan provides no specifics about existing or potential future regulations or enforcement or supervisory initiatives.