We Must Have Real Accountability From Our Overseers (Letter to the Editor)

The CFPB’s lack of checks and balances violates the constitutional separation of powers. It has a single head who can’t be fired even if voters elect a president with different ideas about how to protect consumers.

The usual rule under our Constitution is that the president can fire department heads at will, as the Supreme Court made clear in its Myers v. U.S. decision of 1926, which struck down a contrary law. An exception to this rule covers multimember agencies with a “quasi-legislative, quasi-judicial” role. But that exception doesn’t cover the CFPB, which is headed by a single leader not subject to collegial oversight.

The bureau’s defenders claim its autonomy is permissible because it is an independent agency. But that argument is circular, using independence to justify itself. Under that perverse logic, the very officials courts have said can be fired, like cabinet secretaries, could be given life tenure just by calling them “independent.” Moreover, just like the bureau, cabinet department officials write their own rules and regulations.