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On June 6, twenty six Democratic Senators sent a letter to the CFPB requesting that the Bureau reconsider the recent debt collection rulemaking proposal to “pursue more meaningful reforms that put consumers . . . first.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, in May, the CFPB released its highly anticipated debt collection rulemaking, which regulates debt collection communications and disclosures and addresses related practices by debt collectors. Among other things, the proposed rule would (i) require debt collectors to provide consumers with a validation notice containing specific information regarding the debt; (ii) restrict debt collectors from calling consumers regarding a particular debt more than seven times within a seven-day-period and prohibit telephone contact for seven days after the debt collector has had a conversation with the consumer; (iii) allow for consumers to unsubscribe from various communication channels with debt collectors, including text or email; and (iv) prevent debt collectors from contacting consumers on their workplace email addresses or through public-facing social media platforms.
In the letter, the Senators argue that the proposed rule as currently written “will only exacerbate and increase troubling harassment tactics” by debt collectors. The Senators note that the Bureau received 81,500 consumer debt collection complaints, and the FTC received nearly 458,000 such complaints in 2018, and argue that the proposed rule does not do enough to address the particular abusive practices that those complaints raised. The Senators allege that the proposed rule “permits collectors to overwhelm consumers with intrusive communications” because it allows for unlimited text messages and emails and allows for collectors to call consumers seven times per week, per debt. Additionally, the Senators argue that the proposed rule “could encourage collectors to practice willful ignorance about the status of the debt they collect,” as it only “prohibits filing or threatening to file a lawsuit if the collector ‘knows or should know’ that the debt is not enforceable.” Lastly, the Senators assert that the Bureau should hold attorneys who engage in debt collection to a “higher standard, [they should] not be granted a safe harbor to engage in abusive and deceptive practices.”
On May 16, Senator Warren (D-MA) released an April 23 letter from CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger outlining the Bureau’s efforts to oversee student loan servicers, which was sent in response to an inquiry by six democratic senators. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the senators wrote to the CFPB seeking additional information on the Bureau’s oversight of student loan companies and servicers involved in the administration of the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) and asking about the effect of the Department of Education’s (Department) December 2017 guidance to loan servicing contractors not to produce documents directly to other government agencies. In response, Kraninger noted that since December 2017, the Bureau has conducted “several exams” of student loan servicers, some that included questions regarding PSLF. However, and most notably, Kraninger stated that, “[s]ince December 2017, student loan servicers have declined to produce information requested by the Bureau for supervisory examinations related to Direct Loans and Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP)…based on the Department’s guidance.” The Bureau has pursued “options” to obtain the information necessary for these examinations, according to Kraninger. Additionally, Kraninger noted that creating a new Memorandum of Understanding with the Department is a priority for the Bureau, once a new Student Loan Ombudsman is hired.
On April 9, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) released responses to inquiries sent last month to the Federal Reserve Board, the OCC, and the CFPB, which expressed, among other things, concern about the level of response taken by a national bank regarding its auto-lending practices, as well as the bank’s remediation plans and compliance risk management efforts. In response, the regulators individually discussed the bank’s progress to satisfy its obligations under existing consent orders.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell wrote that the asset cap imposed on the bank will remain in place until the bank has implemented—to the Board’s satisfaction—remedies to address risk management breakdowns. Powell noted that the bank and the Board are comprehensively addressing the progress.
OCC Comptroller Joseph Otting emphasized that the agency continues “to monitor the bank’s work to remediate deficiencies” identified in previously issued orders, and commented that while the OCC is disappointed with the bank’s current corporate governance and risk management programs, it “is fully engaged and prepared to bring [the bank’s] matters to resolution.”
CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger stated that “while the Bureau is working with [the bank] to ensure its compliance with the consent order, I am not satisfied with the [b]ank’s progress to date and have instructed staff to take all appropriate actions to ensure the [b]ank complies with the consent order and [f]ederal consumer financial law.”
On April 3, six Democratic Senators wrote to the CFPB seeking additional information on the Bureau’s oversight of student loan companies and servicers involved in the administration of the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). In the letter, the Senators expressed concern that the Bureau’s leadership “has abandoned its supervision and enforcement activities related to federal student loan servicers.” The Senators noted that consumers owe more than $1.5 trillion in student loan debt in the U.S. and that loan servicing companies under contract with the U.S. Department of Education (the “Department”) are “covered persons” under Title X of the Dodd Frank Act, which allows the Bureau “broad oversight authority over their actions.” The Senators cited to a number of lawsuits brought by private citizens and state authorities challenging student loan servicing companies’ actions with regard to PSLF, and requested the Bureau respond to a series of questions regarding its activities overseeing student loan servicers’ handling of PSLF since December 2017. Among other things, the Senators requested information regarding (i) the Bureau’s examinations of student loan servicers’ PSLF administration; (ii) the effect of the Department’s December 2017 guidance to loan servicing contractors not to produce documents directly to other government agencies; (iii) the status of the CFPB’s alleged investigation into a specific student loan servicer’s actions; and (iv) the status of information sharing with the Department since August 2017.
On March 27, the White House released a Memorandum on Federal Housing Finance Reform, which directs the Secretary of the Treasury to develop a plan to end the conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs). Specifically, the memo states that the U.S. housing finance system is “in urgent need of reform,” as taxpayers are “potentially exposed to future bailouts” and programs at HUD have outdated operations and are “potentially overexposed to risk.” The President directs the Treasury and HUD to create specific plans addressing a number of reforms “as soon as practical.” Among other things, the directives include:
- Treasury to reform GSEs. With the ultimate goal of ending the conservatorships, the memo directs Treasury to develop proposals to, among other things, (i) preserve access to 30 year fix-rate mortgages for qualified homebuyers; (ii) establish appropriate capital and liquidity requirements for the GSEs; (iii) increase private sector participation in the mortgage market; (iv) evaluate the “QM Patch” with the HUD Secretary and CFPB Director; and (v) set conditions necessary to end conservatorships.
- HUD to reform programs. In addition to outlining specific objectives, the memo directs HUD to achieve three goals: (i) ensure that the FHA and the Government National Mortgage Association (GNMA) assume the primary responsibility for providing housing finance support for low income or underserved families; (ii) improve risk management, program, and product design to reduce taxpayer exposure; and (iii) modernize the operations of the FHA and GNMA.
Similarly, on March 26 and 27, the Senate Banking Committee held a two-part hearing (here and here) on housing finance reform. The hearing reviewed the legislative plan released by Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) in February. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the plan would, among other things, end the GSEs conservatorships, make the GSEs private guarantors, and allow other nonbank private guarantors to enter the market. Additionally, the plan would (i) restructure FHFA as a bipartisan board of directors, which would charter, regulate, and supervise all private guarantors; (ii) place a percentage cap on all outstanding mortgages for guarantors; and (iii) replace current housing goals and duty-to-serve requirements with a fund intended to address housing needs of underserved communities. In his opening statement at the hearing, Crapo said that, “approximately 70 percent of all mortgages originated in this country are in some way touched by the federal government” and “the status quo is not a viable option” for the housing finance market. Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) emphasized that “any changes we consider must strengthen, not weaken, our ability to address the housing challenges facing our nation and make the housing market work better for families.”
Over the two days, the Senators and witnesses discussed the positive objectives of Crapo’s plan while recognizing hurdles that exist in implementing housing finance reform. While many Senators and witnesses expressed support for a requirement that private guarantors serve a national market, others suggested that regionalized or specialized guarantors could have advantages, including reaching underserved markets. Many Democrats stressed the importance of keeping a catastrophic government guarantee in place, while Republicans emphasized the need for legislative reforms to be implemented as soon as possible. With respect to equal access for small lenders, Senators discussed the concern over credit unions being able to sell loans in a multiple guarantor market.
On March 5, U.S. Senate Democrats issued a letter urging CFPB Director, Kathy Kraninger, to resume reviews for compliance with the Military Lending Act (MLA) during routine lender examinations. The Senators argue that the existing statutory authorities for the Bureau “are more than sufficient to justify including MLA compliance in routine examinations,” in an apparent response to Kraninger’s January request to Congress to grant the Bureau “clear authority” to conduct the examinations. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The Senators cite to Section 1024(b)(1)(C) of the Dodd-Frank Act, which states that the Bureau “shall require reports and conduct examinations on a periodic basis . . . for purposes of . . . detecting and assessing risks to consumers and to markets for consumer financial products and services,” and asserts that charging servicemembers and their families more than 36 percent in violation of the MLA is “clearly a risk” to consumers. Concluding that the CFPB has all the authority it needs to include the MLA in routine examinations, the Senators request the Bureau provide a full justification of the leadership’s decision to not review for compliance with the MLA by March 8.
On January 17, the CFPB issued a statement from Bureau Director Kathy Kraninger announcing she has asked Congress to grant the Bureau “clear authority to supervise for compliance with the Military Lending Act (MLA).” The statement expresses Kraninger’s interest in protecting servicemembers and their families and notes the requested authority would complement the Bureau’s MLA enforcement work. The announcement acknowledges the recently introduced House legislation, H.R. 442, which would directly grant the Bureau supervisory authority over the MLA, and also includes suggested draft legislation the Bureau sent to both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate (here and here). The draft legislation would amend the Consumer Financial Protection Act to include a section providing the Bureau “nonexclusive authority to require reports and conduct examinations on a periodic basis” for the purposes of (i) assessing compliance with the MLA; (ii) obtaining information about the compliance systems or procedures associated with the law; and (iii) detecting and assessing associated risks to consumers and to markets.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, in August 2018, then acting Director Mick Mulvaney internally announced the Bureau would cease supervisory examinations of the MLA, contending the law did not explicitly grant the Bureau the authority to examine financial institutions for compliance. A bipartisan coalition of 33 state Attorneys General wrote to Mulvaney expressing concern over the decision and after her confirmation, a group of 23 House Democrats urged Kraninger to resume the examinations. (Covered by InfoBytes here and here.)
The Bureau’s request that Congress grant it authority to examine for compliance with the MLA suggests that it does not intend to do so unless Congress acts.
On December 6, the U.S. Senate confirmed, in a 50 to 49 vote, Kathy Kraninger as the new Director of the CFPB for a five year term. Kraninger replaces acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney, under whom she served at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as the associate director for general government. Prior to OMB, Kraninger worked at the Department of Homeland Security and in Congress on the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations. In July, Kraninger testified before the Senate Banking Committee where she fielded questions covering a range of topics and notably stated that, “Congress, through [the] Dodd-Frank Act, gave the Bureau incredible powers and incredible independence from both the president and the Congress in its structure. . . . My focus is on running the agency as Congress established it, but certainly working with members of Congress. I’m very open to changes in that structure that will make the agency more accountable and more transparent.” (Detailed coverage on Kraninger’s hearing available here.)
While her views on consumer financial protection issues are largely unknown, Kraninger is expected to continue with Mulvaney’s initiatives, at least in the near term. Currently, the Bureau is, among other things, (i) expected to release a proposed rule reconsidering the ability-to-repay provisions of the rule covering Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans in January 2019 (covered by InfoBytes here); (ii) fighting three constitutional challenges to its single-director structure (InfoBytes coverage here and here and here); and (iii) receiving pushback from state Attorneys General on its reported decisions to no longer supervising financial institutions for compliance with the Military Lending Act (MLA) and reexamine the requirements and enforcement of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) (covered by InfoBytes here and here).
In a press statement released shortly after the vote, Mulvaney praised the Senate for confirming Kraninger and spoke of his time as acting Director, “[t]his last year has been an important step in the history of the Bureau as we take our place among the most notable regulatory bodies of our country -- and frankly the world. Like all transitions, it was not always as smooth as we would've all liked, but the Bureau has emerged stronger for it.”
On November 27, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security conducted a hearing to discuss, among other topics, whether the FTC should be granted expanded authority over consumer data privacy and security. The hearing entitled “Oversight of the Federal Trade Commission” heard from the Chairman of the FTC as well as the agency’s four commissioners. Ranking Member Senator Bill Nelson’s opening statement discussed the need for providing additional resources to the FTC in order to ensure the agency is able to perform its mandated duties and effectively protect U.S. consumers from unfair or deceptive acts or practices. The five witnesses agreed that enforcement remains a priority for the FTC and called for comprehensive consumer privacy legislation that would clarify the agency’s authority and the rules relating to data security and breach notification, while fostering competition and innovation to the benefit of consumers. Specifically, FTC Chairman Joseph Simons stated he would support federal data security legislation if it provided the following three items: (i) the ability to seek civil money penalties to effectively deter unlawful conduct; (ii) jurisdiction over nonprofits and common carriers; and (iii) broad rulemaking authority to issue implementing rules under the Administrative Procedures Act for consumer protection issues such as privacy and data security. Commissioner Rohit Chopra also emphasized the need for Congress to support the FTC’s authority under Section 13B of the FTC Act, which authorizes the FTC to seek preliminary and permanent injunctions against companies and individuals.
However, Senator Blumenthal argued that too often the FTC has “fallen short” on protecting consumer privacy, particularly in terms of enforcement and pressing challenges. According to Senator Blumenthal, big tech companies misuse their power and consent orders are not “vigorously and adequately enforced.” He argued that the FTC must have the tools and resources to establish meaningful penalties for first offenses that pose a credible deterrent and recognize state attorneys general to ensure violations are investigated and punished.
Among other things, the hearing also discussed topics addressing: (i) the FTC’s ongoing series of public hearings reexamining the agency’s approach to consumer privacy in light of changing technologies (see previous InfoBytes coverage here); (ii) federal preemption versus state-by-state laws and the risk of inconsistencies and compliance challenges; (iii) the potential use of the FTC’s Section 6B authority, which would allow requests to be sent to the tech industry to understand what data is collected from consumers and how that information is used, shared, and sold; (iv) privacy protections for children, including the strengths and weaknesses of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, particularly with respect to children ages 13 and older; (v) data minimization controls; and (vi) notice and comment rulemaking authority.
The results are in: Party control of the U.S. House of Representatives will change for the third time in 12 years, leaving legions of pundits to speculate about what happens next. Prospects for a fundamental change in the way Congress and Washington operate are dim, particularly given that the U.S. Senate remains under Republican control. With new legislation most likely dead on arrival due to the political stalemate on Capitol Hill, the Democrats’ most reliable opportunity to exert their will is almost certainly through congressional oversight and investigations. The last time the Democrats controlled the House during a Republican presidency, following the 2006 midterms, Rep. Henry Waxman remarked that Congress’s oversight powers are “just as important, if not more important than legislation.”
While it is tempting to dismiss congressional oversight, and the attendant theatrical hearings and testimony as nothing but sound and fury, the reality for companies, executives, and others under the microscope is far less anodyne. Lack of preparation and ill-conceived strategy in responding to congressional investigations heightens the prospect of reputational harm that, unchecked, will frustrate business goals, damage shareholders, and derail — or end — careers.
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Click here to read the full special alert.
Please join us for a Dec. 5 webcast that will delve deeper into these topics and offer some thoughts on navigating the coming tide of congressional investigations. If you have questions about congressional investigations or other related issues, please visit our Congressional Investigations practice page, or contact a Buckley Sandler attorney with whom you have worked in the past.
- Buckley Webcast: Hot topics in debt collection — An analysis of recent federal FDCPA litigation
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "How to succeed in law school" at the SEO Law DC Panel Discussions
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "Navigating the challenges of the latest data protection regulations and proven protocols for breach prevention and response" at the ACI National Forum on Consumer Finance Class Actions and Government Enforcement
- Sasha Leonhardt and John B. Williams to discuss "Privacy" at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions Summer Regulatory Compliance School
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program
- Henry Asbill to discuss "Ethical guidance in conducting internal investigations – The intersection of Yates an Upjohn" at the American Bar Association Southeastern White Collar Crime Institute
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "RESPA Section 8/referrals: How do you stay compliant?" at the New England Mortgage Bankers Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from recent enforcement actions and CMPs" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Assessing the CDD final rule: A year of transitions" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference