TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Kai Ryssdal: Looks like we’re about to get a brand new assistant to the president and special advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Yeah, that’s about 15 words to describe what Elizabeth Warren might actually wind up doing at Treasury: Setting up that new protection agency. It’s widely expected the announcement, perhaps, tomorrow won’t be naming her the actual director. Running the protection bureau’s far from the only job set up by the financial reform bill. Hiring people to fill them is proving a challenge for the White House, so they’re getting creative.
Barbara Rehm is the editor-at-large of American Banker. Good to have you with us.
Barbara Rehm: It’s nice to be here.
Ryssdal: What’s your sense of the gyrations that the Obama Administration seems to be going through to get Elizabeth Warren into this job? Could they have done it without the extended bureaucratic fan dance?
Rehm: I like that — “fan dance” is nice. In some ways, he kind of backed himself into a corner, Obama did. I think the administration spent so much energy and effort to getting the bill passed that they just didn’t spend any time figuring out what they were going to do after July 21. And what he’s doing tomorrow, supposedly, is really the best move he can make at this point, ’cause she will at least be in the job, even though she won’t have the independence and the credibility that comes with being in a Senate-confirmed appointee. She will be able to start this thing going, and I think she’ll be able to establish a culture for the agency.
Ryssdal: You have to consider the Senate and the possibility that it was just going to be an ugly confirmation fight.
Rehm: I agree with that completely, but these nomination hearings are important, particularly on an agency like this, where it’s brand new, it’s got a new mandate, it’s got a big job. And you know, it’s a chance for senators and the nominee to sit and talk about what they’re all envisioning, kind of lays out the game plan.
Ryssdal: Well that brings up the question of other jobs that are open that were created by the Dodd-Frank Bill, the financial reform bill. There’s a bunch of slots waiting for people to get filled.
Rehm: Right. There are two other jobs: One is the Office of Financial Research, which was designed to make sure we don’t have another systemic meltdown. There’s also a job inside the Fed. It’s a vice chairman job for banks supervision, ’cause the Fed is constantly being criticized for being too focused on monetary policy and not enough focus on their job as a bank regulator. And that job hasn’t been filled, and that’s a pretty easy one, because it has to be someone who’s on the board. There’s only four or five members of the board now.
Ryssdal: Oh, the board of governors of the Fed?
Rehm: Yeah. And one of them is already in charge of this exact job. So there’s really no reason not to just have done that job, done that appointment.
Ryssdal: What does it tell you then, about how well we’re being protected from another financial crisis if we can’t fill any of these jobs?
Rehm: Well, I do think everybody is so on alert that I’m not so worried that there’s going to be another crisis, because of this lack of job filling. But I do think over the long term, it’s exactly the point. If you don’t have people in these jobs, they’re not dedicated to them, they’re not actually doing them — the Treasury Department can’t do all these jobs by itself and that’s kinda what’s happening. Long term, to prevent another crisis, they’re going to have to fill these jobs.
Ryssdal: Where do we go from here then? After the election, depending on how the results go, are we going to see a slew of nominations?
Rehm: They’re going to have to nominate these people eventually, right? But why waiting? I didn’t get that. They had a better chance of getting people confirmed if they nominated them July 21 than they do some time next year. The Senate’s going to have fewer Democratic members and it’s going to be harder to get these confirmations done.
Ryssdal: Barbara Rehm with American Banker. Barbara, thanks so much.
Rehm: Thank you Kai.
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