Friday, July 03, 2015

Shadowy federal agency snooping in your wallet accused of discrimination

By M.D. Kittle |

The shadowy federal agency that wants to know what you’re buying with your credit card finds itself the subject of wide-ranging discrimination allegations.

Employees of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau charge that a culture of sexism, ageism and racism permeates the quasi-governmental agency.

Two CFPB whistleblowers recently testified before the House Financial Services Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. Democratic members of the committee attempted to turn the tables on the whistleblowers, charging that anyone complaining of discrimination in an agency created by the Obama White House is quite clearly racist.

“The opposite side of the aisle hates the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,” said Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., the committee’s ranking member. “They would like to destroy it. We have to take pause when it appears that (Republicans) would simply like to use discrimination as a way by which they continue to attack the bureau.”

But Senior Equal Employment Specialist Florine Williams testified that in 32 years of government services she had never seen anything like the discrimination that persists at the CFPB.

There have been reports of pervasive racial comments, and some cases of extreme gender-compensation inequality. Whistleblowers have said female CFPB employees earn as little as 60 percent of the wages paid to men doing comparable work.

One of CFPB’s core functions is to enforce laws that “outlaw discrimination and other unfair treatment in consumer finance.”

“How can an agency founded on principles of equality and fairness carry out its mission when it can’t even protect its own employees from the very practices it seeks to abolish?” said U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wisconsin, chairman of the Financial Service subcommittee.

Employees testified that the CFPB’s atmosphere is “soulless” and that their complaints have fallen on deaf ears for several years.

Duffy is leading the charge to reform the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Created under the sweeping Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, the agency sets regulatory guidance for an array of financial products.

The bureau is funded through a direct percentage of Federal Reserve income, not by Congress – and that means there’s no congressional oversight. That hasn’t stopped criticism of the bureau by free-market and privacy advocates for snooping on U.S. consumers and intimidating businesses.

A recent report found that the CFPB has accomplished the monitoring of more than 85 percent of all credit card records from U.S. consumers. The agency’s goal is to reach 95 percent of the domestic credit card marketplace.

The bureau says it’s all about protecting consumers. But Brian Wise, senior advisor to the free-market advocate U.S. Consumer Coalition, says CFPB’s motivations are more nefarious.

“They are literally collecting and monitoring the credit card records of almost every single American consumer that has a credit card,” Wise said. “They know the individual transactions that credit card users are making, where they are happening, and how often you’re making those transactions.”

In many ways, Wise said, the consumer data-mining project is worse than the National Security Agency’s surveillance program.

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