Since the day in late November when he showed up at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, doughnuts in hand, Mick Mulvaney has said that things were going to change. For almost two months, the acting director appointed by Trump has implemented seemingly small, but important, shifts that indicate what the bureau will look like in the years ahead. In a memo to bureau staff made public by ProPublica, Mulvaney finally laid out his vision for the agency: a government entity that doesn’t “push the envelope.”
In an email to the bureau’s staff, Mulvaney said that he had been struggling to come up with a central thesis for how exactly the agency would change. Mulvaney wrote that the philosophy of the previous director, Richard Cordray, was “to aggressively ‘push the envelope’ in pursuit of the ‘mission;’ that we were the ‘good guys’ and the ‘new sheriff in town,’ out to fight the ‘bad guys.’” The acting director then declared, “That is what is going to be different.”
Mulvaney went on to say the “entire governing philosophy of pushing the envelope frightens me a little ... it’s not appropriate for any government entity to ‘push the envelope.’” The acting director described concerns that the bureau would overstep and create long-lasting damage to individuals, reputations, and businesses. What will this new philosophy look like in practice? Mulvaney vowed to only pursue lawsuits if evidence of “quantifiable and unavoidable harm” is found. And the agency will rely more heavily on its rulemaking efforts as the engine of change, instead of enforcement, meaning that the bureau won’t focus on fines or lawsuits to cull bad behavior. Instead, the CFPB will primarily look to the creation and implementation of new rules, in hopes of changing dangerous practices—a process that is less punitive and more time-consuming.