The fight to protect consumers, at a crossroads
Jan 14th, 2020
As a part of the original team that built the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in 2010, I (Leandra English) know the vital importance of having a federal agency whose sole mission is to safeguard the financial interests of American consumers.
As 2020 begins, we are witnessing the concerning convergence of two realities: a federal retreat from enforcing critical rules and laws that protect Americans from predatory and abusive practices in the financial services industry, and an increasingly dire financial outlook faced by too many Americans that demands government action.
The statistics are startling. Student loan debt is reaching record levels; use of aggressive debt collection tactics is on the rise; and American household debt increased to $13.95 trillion in the third quarter of 2019, the 21st consecutive increase. Black and Hispanic Americans are worse off than the overall population: 90% of black students carry student debt, along with default rates that are three times those of their white counterparts. Black and Hispanic Americans are also more likely to be targeted by predatory debt collectors, and are charged higher rates for mortgages.
Not since the impacts of the 2008 financial crisis were realized has the need for government action on consumer protection been greater.
That’s why this January, I moved from Washington to New York to continue the battle for consumer rights.
I made this move to build on the work started at the CFPB. While the federal government continues to roll back, dismantle and trample on essential consumer protections, state governments must step up to fill this void. New York is leading the way.
Through the work of the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS), established by Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature in 2011, New York has cracked down on predatory lenders, put in place important protections for student borrowers, confronted discrimination in the financial services industry and helped protect patients from surprise medical bills.
These efforts are just the beginning: In his State of the State agenda, Cuomo proposed an ambitious package of proposals to further establish New York as the consumer protection capital of the nation, including bringing real regulatory oversight to the debt collection industry, commencing more aggressive action against elder financial abuse, increasing access to affordable banking services and strengthening the state’s consumer protection laws with vitally important reforms to protect New Yorkers against unfair, deceptive and abusive practices.
The CFPB, created in response to the 2008 financial crisis, could and should have been leading on many of these fronts.
Before its creation, federal oversight of consumer financial products was a fractured, patchwork system that lost sight of the impact that increasingly complex financial products were having on American families.
The CFPB was established to be different, charged with making sure consumers were getting a fair shot in this evolving landscape.
For a time, the CFPB was operating as intended, and its efforts paid off: By late 2017, the CFPB had delivered $11.9 billion in relief to consumers from companies that had cheated consumers.
But in a painfully familiar saga that has played out within several federal agencies, much of the CFPB’s core mission has been abandoned and its protections for consumers dismantled by the current federal administration.
Under the current administration, the CFPB has significantly slowed its enforcement of consumer laws, sending a clear signal to companies that malfeasance will be tolerated, especially in cases of discrimination. Don’t take my word alone; consumer protection experts have called attention to CFPB’s retreat.
As Lisa Donner, executive director of Americans for Financial Reform, put it, last year, the CFPB “was constructed really deliberately to protect ordinary people,” and the Trump administration has “taken it apart — dismantled it, piece by piece, brick by brick.”
I am honored to join DFS Superintendent Linda A. Lacewell’s team to ensure that as Washington retreats, New York continues to lead.
English is special policy adviser to the superintendent at the New York State Department of Financial Services. In the Obama administration, she served as deputy director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Who is Leandra English?
|Deputy Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
November 24, 2017 – July 9, 2018
|David Silberman (acting)
|Brian Johnson (acting)
|New York University (BA)
London School of Economics (MS)
Leandra English is an American government official who served as the Deputy Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) from 2017 until her resignation in 2018. She was the plaintiff in the lawsuit English v. Trump, in which she sought to have herself acknowledged as Acting Director of the CFPB.
English has served in many capacities as a member of the U.S. federal government. Before joining the CFPB, she worked in both the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of the Treasury. She worked on the transition team that launched the new agency in 2010. She later served as Deputy Chief of Staff. She then returned to OMB, serving as senior advisor to the Deputy Director of Management. She returned to CFPB in 2015, serving as Deputy Chief Operating Officer and then Chief of Staff.
Legal Battle Over CFPB Leadership
On November 24, 2017, English was appointed Deputy Director of the CFPB by outgoing Director Richard Cordray. Cordray resigned his position as Director effective midnight November 25, 2017, and sent a letter to CFPB staff announcing that English would serve as Acting Director. That same evening, President Donald Trump appointed the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, as the Acting Director of the CFPB. On November 26, 2017, English filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to block Mulvaney from taking leadership of the CFPB.
English has received backing from a number of current and former Democrat legislators calling her the rightful Acting Director, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Sherrod Brown, Senator Richard Durbin, Representative Nancy Pelosi, and former Representative Barney Frank, co-author of the Dodd-Frank Act. A number of law professors also support her position, including Laurence Tribe, Martin Lederman, and Nina Mendelson.
The Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA) allows the president to appoint an interim replacement for an appointed officer of an executive agency without Senate confirmation, but the FVRA does not provide the “exclusive means” for filling a vacancy when “a statutory provision…designates an officer or employee to perform the functions and duties of a specified office temporarily in an acting capacity.” The law establishing the CFPB (the Dodd–Frank Act) is arguably unclear about whether the director’s resignation qualifies as “unavailability” under FVRA, leading to confusion as to who would lead the agency and setting up a legal battle.
The Office of Legal Counsel has consistently interpreted the FVRA as providing a non-exclusive option for appointing a successor when another, more specific option exists in another statute (in this case, the Dodd–Frank Act). The Office of Legal Counsel thus released an opinion that the FVRA gives the President the right to appoint an interim successor in this case. The top lawyer at the CFPB concurred with the Trump administration’s opinion and directed all staff at the agency to disregard English’s claims to be the Acting Director.
She resigned from office on July 9, 2018, in light of President Trump’s appointment of Kathleen Kraninger to serve as CFPB director full-time. She was succeeded by Brian Johnson, who was appointed to serve in an acting capacity.