Single-director regulatory confirmations take longer: study

WASHINGTON Thu Apr 4, 2013 1:50pm EDT

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) speaks next to Richard Cordray after Obama announced Cordray's renomination to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, January 24, 2013. REUTERS/Larry Downing

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) speaks next to Richard Cordray after Obama announced Cordray's renomination to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, January 24, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - It takes about three times as long for the president and Senate to install new heads of financial regulatory agencies run by single directors as it does to approve leaders of bipartisan commissions, a study released on Thursday has found.

The study by the nonprofit Bipartisan Policy Center analyzed how long it took the president and the Senate to complete the nomination process for independent financial regulators such as Securities and Exchange Commission members and the comptroller of the currency, starting with regulators who were in office as of January 2000.

The historical trends do not bode well for Richard Cordray, President Barack Obama's pick to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as lawmakers continue to disagree over how the new watchdog should be structured.

"We hope the analysis is useful to the ongoing conversation about the appropriate structure of independent financial regulatory agencies," said Mark Olson, who leads a working group within the center's Financial Regulatory Reform Initiative.

The study found that commission chairs take an average of seven months to be installed, with presidents taking an average of 74 days to nominate someone and the Senate taking 135 days on average to confirm a nominee.

Single-director agency heads, by contrast, take an average of two years, with the president taking an average of 439 days to nominate a candidate and the Senate an average of 229 days to confirm the nominee.

It took the Obama administration one year to nominate Cordray the first time around, and the Senate has not acted on the nomination for 623 days and counting, the report said.

Obama used a controversial recess appointment to install Cordray as head of the CFPB last year in order to bypass Senate confirmation. Republicans refused to confirm a director until Obama agreed to make changes to the bureau's structure.

Obama nominated Cordray again for a full term earlier this year. Cordray is not expected to be confirmed any time soon.

By contrast, Mary Jo White, who was chosen to head the SEC on the same day that Obama re-nominated Cordray, appears to face no clear opposition and is expected to be confirmed sometime after the Senate returns from its spring recess.

Republicans in the Senate generally like Cordray and feel he has done a good job so far. But they want the CFPB to be set up more like the SEC, with a chairman and bipartisan board.

Despite the somewhat easier process to confirm regulatory commission members, Congress in recent years has moved to create more single-director financial agencies, the report said.

In 2008, Congress combined two existing agencies into one single-head regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Then in the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, Congress created the CFPB and the Office of Financial Research (OFR), a single-director agency within the U.S. Treasury charged with collecting and analyzing data to spot emerging risks to financial markets.

After the OFR's launch, it took Obama 513 days to nominate Richard Berner as its director and another 382 days for the Senate to confirm him, the report said.

The study also found that the nominations process for independent financial regulators has slowed under Obama compared with his predecessor, George W. Bush.

The center unveiled a new online "nominations tracker" to help the press and the public keep track of the nominations process. The tracker is available here

(Reporting By Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Leslie Adler)