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Watchdog Finds Trouble with CFPB’s Culture

investigationJust a matter of days after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that an audit of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)’s internal controls and accounting procedures has found some deficiencies, the GAO reported on Tuesday that a survey of nonexecutive employees revealed concerns over fair treatment in the workplace.

The purpose of the GAO’s report was to examine the views of CFPB employees on personnel management and organizational culture issues, according to GAO. In 2014, some CFPB employees testified before Congress about allegations of discrimination and retaliation, which “raised concerns about CFPB’s management practices and culture,” the GAO reported.

While the survey found that most respondents agreed that enthusiasm is high for the CFPB’s mission and that their supervisors respect and value individuals’ differences, more than a quarter of survey respondents had unfavorable views on matters such as fair treatment, the believe that employees can raise concerns without fear of reprisal, and confidence in the complaint process, according to the GAO.

In some offices at the Bureau and among some demographic groups, the dissatisfaction rate was as high as 35 percent the GAO reported. About one-third of respondents disagreed with the statement that success as a CFPB employee is based on merit rather than on personal connections or favoritism, according to the report.

GAO said that in response to the challenges identified in 2013 and 2014, the Bureau has worked to strengthen personnel management practices as well as diversity and inclusion efforts.

“In part to address weaknesses in personnel practices that may have contributed to perceptions of unfair treatment, CFPB has expanded management training, developed new guidance on personnel practices, and developed a new performance management system,” GAO noted. “CFPB has made progress in adopting leading diversity management practices identified in prior GAO work, such as finalizing a diversity strategic plan, creating employee diversity groups, and expanding diversity training.”

CFPB has also launched a new initiative to strengthen organizational culture, which includes obtaining employee input, and the Bureau has provided new training and guidance to strengthen its employee complaint process.

In order to inspect CFPB’s personnel practices and organizational culture, GAO reviewed the Bureau’s reports, policies, procedures, and other documents, surveyed CFPB’s employees and executives to gather their views; spoke with CFPB employees and interviewed CFPB officials; and reviewed the recommendations of the Office of the Inspector General for the Fed and the CFPB.

GAO made two recommendations to the Bureau to improve its management efforts: develop a strategy for reporting on progress and create feedback tools for its grievance process in coordination with the Bureau’s employee union.

CFPB spokesperson Sam Gilford said in response to the GAO's report:

"We appreciate GAO’s extensive consultation with the CFPB over the course of its 20-month review. The GAO’s report describes the CFPB’s ongoing work to foster a positive organizational culture, and the most current and rigorous survey of CFPB employees demonstrates that these many efforts have been effective. As the GAO notes, the Bureau uses the OPM-administered Annual Employee Survey to monitor employee satisfaction and perceptions. The 2015 survey, which is mentioned in the GAO report, found that CFPB employees reported high satisfaction with their jobs (75.2 percent favorable, compared to a 65.2 percent favorable response government-wide) and with the Bureau (70.7% favorable, compared to 55.7 percent government-wide)."

Gilford continued, "And as in the GAO survey, respondents across demographic groups indicated deep trust in their immediate supervisors in the 2015 AES, indicating that supervisors treat them with respect (91.5% favorable), work well with employees of different backgrounds (75.9% favorable), and are committed to a workforce that is representative of all segments of society (82.8% favorable). An annual comparison of federal Annual Employee Survey results published by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service found that in 2015 the CFPB ranked 8th out of 24 comparable agencies in overall employee satisfaction. That same comparison ranked the CFPB 3rd out of 22 peer agencies for Support for Diversity, and 6th out of 22 for Effective Leadership. We are proud of our progress in building an effective and supportive organizational culture at the Bureau, and we also recognize that maintaining a diverse, inclusive, fair, and efficient culture requires enduring commitment. Outside perspectives and recommendations, such as those GAO provides in its report, offer valuable insight and opportunities to further enhance our organizational culture and personnel management programs and practices. In that spirit, we accept both of GAO's recommendations."

Click here to view the GAO’s complete report.

About Author: Brian Honea

Brian Honea's writing and editing career spans nearly two decades across many forms of media. He served as sports editor for two suburban newspaper chains in the DFW area and has freelanced for such publications as the Yahoo! Contributor Network, Dallas Home Improvement magazine, and the Dallas Morning News. He has written four non-fiction sports books, the latest of which, The Life of Coach Chuck Curtis, was published by the TCU Press in December 2014. A lifelong Texan, Brian received his master's degree from Amberton University in Garland.
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