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CFPB Ombudsman Annual Report Highlights Ex Parte Communications

envelope-letter-icon_comment_note_200The CFPB plans to standardize its internal process around documenting ex parte communications related to proposed rules, following a recommendation from the agency’s Ombudsman’s Office. In its fifth Annual Report to the Director, the Ombudsman’s Office identifies that issue as one of the topics it focused on during the CFPB’s 2016 fiscal year (from October 2015 through September 2016). The office is an independent body that assists outside parties—including consumers, financial entities, consumer groups and trade groups—resolving process issues with the CFPB.

During FY2016, “some groups” expressed to the Ombudsman’s Office an inability to locate documented communications regarding proposed rules, or complained that such documentation was publicly available in “noticeably varying time frames” on the agency’s regulations.gov rulemaking portal. The CFPB previously established a policy to document such communications, known as ex parte communication, in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act. The Ombudsman’s Office reviewed the agency’s policies and internal guidance around its ex parte communications, met with relevant CFPB offices and sought additional feedback from outside stakeholders, according to the report. The office also reviewed posted documentation from the 2015 fiscal year and the first two quarters of FY2016. “In reviewing the posted documentation, we observed that there was not a consistent format used in posting the information,” the Ombudsman’s Office said in its report. “Additionally, documents were posted in varying time frames after the communication, from one day to approximately five months.”

In light of those observations, the Ombudsman’s Office recommended the CFPB standardize its process for documenting ex parte communications on proposed rules. The CFPB plans to standardize the internal process for documenting such communication. The Ombudsman’s Office said it will share further updates in its next annual report.

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