This past Friday, the CFPB issued guidance to its staff titled “Ethics Guidance for Engaging with Former Federal Employees.”

In an accompanying statement, Director Chopra indicated that the guidance was needed to protect the public interest from potential risks and misconduct associated with the “revolving door.”  He described the “revolving door” (i.e. when an individual moves back and forth between government and private employment) as a phenomenon that allows former government employees to “market themselves to regulated entities, law firms, and lobbying organizations by touting their knowledge of the inner workings of a regulatory agency” and expressed concern “that some former employees may have a financial incentive to exploit confidential information to which they may have had access.”

Director Chopra warned that the guidance “will allow the CFPB to detect activity by former employees and other government agencies who may be violating existing ethics and confidential information disclosure laws and regulations” and that the CFPB will use information provided by CFPB employees about such potential violations “to make appropriate referrals to civil and criminal authorities” and, in the case of  former government attorneys, to “make referrals to state licensing bodies and bar associations that may wish to consider disciplinary proceedings.”

The guidance advises CFPB employees not to give preferential treatment to former federal government employees or their new employers and to treat former employees “in the same manner as all other members of the public who have business pending before the Bureau.”  However, in his statement, Director Chopra goes a step further, indicating that stricter scrutiny will apply to matters involving former CFPB employees.  Director Chopra states that “[CFPB] alumni will not get special treatment.  In fact, it will be just the opposite.  We will be applying heightened scrutiny to matters and decisions where a party has employed or retained the services of a former employee….”

In addition to advising CFPB staff not to give preferential treatment to former CFPB employees, the guidance advises staff to:

  • Protect supervisory, confidential, and non-public Bureau information by not sharing such information with another CFPB employee “as soon as [he or she] submits their paperwork to transition out of the Bureau.”
  • Report if a former employee communicates or appears before the Bureau in connection with a specific-party matter that the employee worked on while employed by the government
  • Report any suspected disclosure by a former employee of confidential or non-public Bureau information
  • Report any contact by a former employee with the Bureau on behalf of any third party within the first year following the employee’s departure
  • Report any “behind-the-scenes assistance” by a former Bureau attorney on a specific-party matter in which the attorney participated while at the Bureau

The CFPB has not indicated whether a specific ethics-related incident occurred that prompted the issuance of the guidance.