- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2014

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the U.S. government’s newest agency championed by Elizabeth Warren to regulate financial institutions, is suffering from sliding employee morale and distrust of the agency’s leadership, according to the latest internal survey of its workforce.

Among the red flags raised by the survey, obtained by The Washington Times, was that CFPB workers registered the biggest decline in optimism when asked whether the “organization’s senior leaders maintain high standards of honesty and integrity.”

The CFPB has been plagued with employee complaints this year, including the very public testimony of employees alleging managerial discrimination this spring and union disputes that led to the resignations of two of its five elected board members this summer.

Conditions inside the CFPB have deteriorated so much that the agency was forced this fall to solicit outside help for equal employment opportunity issues such as counseling, mediation, investigation and case management services, signaling it may not be able to handle the volume of employee complaints with its in-house resources.

According to its annual employee survey — which hasn’t been released publicly but was distributed internally Oct. 30 — opinions have shifted significantly against the CFPB this year. In 41 out of the 75 questions asked, employees’ favorable opinions decreased or unfavorable opinions increased compared with last year.

CFPB officials say they are taking steps to try to reverse the decline in employee confidence and morale.

“In response to the 2014 Annual Employee Survey results, the CFPB will launch joint management and union working groups at the division level to review and understand the results and make recommendations for improvement,” spokesman Samuel Gilford told The Times.

He also pointed out areas of survey satisfaction, including nine questions where CFPB employees ranked themselves and their bosses 10 points higher than the average across the federal government. The CFPB’s employee survey results meet or exceed last year’s federal government average on all but three items, he said.

CFPB is the brainchild of Ms. Warren, a Democratic senator from Massachusetts. It was created by two other Democrats who have since left Congress, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, as part of a financial reform package bearing their names.

The legislation created the agency to protect consumers from predatory banks and lending institutions blamed for the 2007-2009 financial crisis. The agency opened its doors on July 21, 2011, with Ms. Warren as its leader.

Since then, the agency has been a political football, roundly opposed by Republicans as an excessive regulatory power play and embraced by liberals who see it as a necessary fix to a financial system gone awry.

Away from the political fray, dozens of workers at the CFPB told The Times this summer that the bureau’s lack of accountability is enabling managers to create their own mini-fiefdoms, stock the ranks with inexperienced and unqualified friends and retaliate against anybody who disagrees with their agenda.

This year’s agency employee survey reflected similar concerns.

In its “challenges and issues to watch” section, the bottom 10 most unfavorable survey results revolved around performance reviews, proper recognition from management, employee empowerment, the ability for an employee to climb the agency’s ladder into a better position, and satisfaction with senior leaders’ policies and practices.

Most employees at the CFPB most strongly disagreed with the statement: “In my work unit, differences in performance are recognized in a meaningful way.” Of the employees surveyed, 44 percent answered unfavorably.

On a governmentwide basis, CFPB employees feel their performance reviews are the worst.

When comparing themselves with their peers in other federal agencies, CFPB staff say the greatest difference is in performance appraisals. The question “In my most recent performance appraisal, I understood what I had to do to be rated at different performance levels” ranked the lowest among the questions asked when benchmarked against the rest of the government.

Last year, white CFPB employees were twice as likely to receive the highest ratings as black or Hispanic employees, according to the CFPB’s own performance management reviews, which were requested and made public by the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents CFPB employees. The odds were similarly stacked against workers older than 40.

The CFPB has acknowledged employee complaints and is working with the union to settle grievances and iron out performance reviews. The agency’s director, Richard Cordray, testified in June that it was challenging to create an agency from the ground up and that working conditions for some have been “especially difficult.”

Ideologically, however, staff members support the CFPB’s mission, according to the employee report.

The greatest strength at the agency is its employees’ belief in the value of the work they do, according to the survey. More than 90 percent of employees at the CFPB feel the work they do is important. They also are satisfied with their physical work environment, such as the noise level, temperature, lighting and cleanliness. Physical conditions at the agency had the largest jump in employee approval year over year.

The survey’s 75 questions allowed employees to select answers from six rankings: strongly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree, disagree, strongly disagree, or I don’t know. The CFPB conducted the survey during July and August, with 84 percent of employees participating.

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