WASHINGTON — Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, spent the weekend managing the shutdown of the federal government. On Tuesday, he turned his attention back to his secondary job running the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a government agency he would probably shut down if he could.
In a 1,118 word mission statement that was sent to the bureau’s staff on Tuesday, Mr. Mulvaney, the acting director, outlined a vision for an agency that enforces financial regulations and consumer protections with “humility and prudence” and that will no longer “push the envelope” when it comes to jurisdiction and scope. Mr. Mulvaney insisted that he would not shutter the bureau, if only because doing so would be against the law.
“When I arrived at C.F.P.B., I told folks that despite what they might have heard, I had no intention of shutting down the Bureau,” Mr. Mulvaney wrote. “Indeed, the law doesn’t allow that, and as members of the Executive Branch we are charged with faithfully executing the laws.”
The consumer bureau, which was created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, has been an ongoing target of Republican lawmakers, who complain that its mandate is too broad, that it has too much power and that its director is unaccountable. The agency is loathed by Republicans because its authority is intended to be independent of the White House and Congress.
In the letter, which was reviewed by The New York Times, Mr. Mulvaney directly attacked the approach of his predecessor, Richard Cordray, who left late last year. Mr. Cordray, he said, viewed the bureau as an agency of “good guys” fighting “bad guys” who modeled himself as the “new sheriff in town” with a broad mandate to crack down on businesses as he saw fit.
Mr. Mulvaney made clear that under his direction, the consumer bureau would be more reluctant to target companies without overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing and suggested that the effect on a business should be weighed more heavily when considering cracking down on potential consumer abuses.
“If a company closes its doors under the weight of a multiyear Civil Investigative Demand, you and I will still have jobs at C.F.P.B.,” Mr. Mulvaney wrote. “But what about the workers who are laid off as a result?”
Mr. Mulvaney also said that the bureau would introduce more quantitative rigor in determining which companies to target for enforcement, a move sure to be welcomed by banks and financial trade groups that have complained about the agency’s enforcement approach.
He suggested that the agency’s efforts would be focused on areas where consumer complaints are most abundant, saying a complaint-driven approach would shift focus to areas like debt collection and away from payday lending.
“In 2016, almost a third of the complaints into this office related to debt collection. Only 0.9% related to prepaid cards and 2% to payday lending. Data like that should, and will, guide our actions,” he wrote.
The staff memo comes a week after Mr. Mulvaney made his most significant moves to date at the bureau, requesting no funding for the quarter from the Federal Reserve and freezing a rule drafted by Mr. Cordray that would have cracked down on the predatory practices of payday lenders.
The latter move drew a public rebuke on Twitter from Mr. Cordray, who is now running for governor of Ohio as a Democrat.
The Trump administration is expected to name a permanent replacement for Mr. Mulvaney in the coming weeks. In the meantime he has been stocking his office with like-minded staffers in an effort to change the culture of the bureau.
Since President Trump tapped him to take the helm of the bureau, Mr. Mulvaney has used his wry humor and the occasional box of doughnuts to win over the staff of a department that he once called a “sad, sick” joke. On Tuesday, he attempted to use literature to persuade employees that they should heed his vision of the bureau’s legal remit, quoting from A Man for All Seasons, a play about the life of Sir Thomas More in which More is encouraged to arrest someone just for being bad.
“If you push the envelope now in pursuit of the supposed ‘mission,’ what’s to stop someone else — with a different mission, perhaps — from pushing that envelope against you tomorrow?” Mr. Mulvaney said, noting that a copy of the book sits in his office.