While the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get You Want" may be an ill-advised campaign song, perhaps it can still serve as the official theme song for Sen. David Vitter's (R-LA) Government Accountability Office (GAO) report requests. The anti-regulatory senator had requested that the GAO audit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) – a favorite punching bag of the right – to determine whether it is complying with the small business outreach requirements imposed by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA). Last week, the GAO released the findings of its audit. Just one tiny problem, though: They are probably not what Vitter wanted to hear.
Before getting into the GAO's specific findings, a little background is in order. Anti-regulatory members of Congress like Vitter continuously peddle the narrative that the federal agencies that previous congresses have charged with protecting public health, safety, the environment, and financial security are churning out too many regulations and that this crisis of overregulation is in large part due to the fact that agencies are improperly circumventing the myriad procedural hurdles that litter the rulemaking process.
To support that narrative, they just need evidence of the agencies' noncompliance with significant requirements from credible sources, such as the GAO. SBREFA – and the closely related Regulatory Flexibility Act – are among the biggest anti-regulatory obstacles that agencies face. As CPR has documented in the past, opponents of sensible safeguards lean heavily on the procedural and analytical requirements imposed by these two laws with the expectation that they will delay, dilute, or even block new rules. Consequently, an impartial judgement that the CFPB was systematically failing to abide by SBREFA's outreach requirements would be a powerful weapon in the campaign against regulatory protections.
And that's where the GAO was supposed to step in and do Vitter a solid. It didn't.
Instead, the GAO's report basically reads as a ringing endorsement of the CFPB's compliance with SBREFA's procedural requirements. Some highlights include:
It will be interesting to see how, if at all, Vitter attempts to spin this report. The wisest course of action may be just to ignore it and pretend it never happened. (He won't get any help from me on this, though.) Alternatively, he may try to grasp at any straws he can find in the report's findings to support his mythical case that the CFPB is insufficiently attentive to small business concerns.
But in the end, what's important is not whether Vitter and his corporate allies are getting what they want; it's whether the public, including small businesses and families, are getting the financial protection they need from the CFPB. Americans' financial security is no doubt better off than it was before the CFPB was created, and the agency has much more work to do to help avoid financial crises, both large and small, that can result from the harmful practices and products of irresponsible banks and other financial institutions. For example, the CFPB is currently working on an important new rule that would help safeguard Americans against forced arbitration clauses. We would all be a lot better off if the Vitters of the world got out of the CFPB's way and let this agency pursue its critical mission in a timely and effective manner.