U.S. consumer agency workers pan poor managers, unclear priorities

WASHINGTON Tue Aug 12, 2014 7:05pm EDT

WASHINGTON Aug 12 (Reuters) - The new U.S. financial consumer agency will improve managers' training and in-house communications, its director said on Tuesday after an internal report found employees were concerned about inexperienced supervisors and confused about pay practices.

Richard Cordray, head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), said in an email to staff that he requested the probe after allegations surfaced of unfair performance rating practices and possible discrimination at the bureau.

The report by the CFPB's Office of Minority and Women Inclusion found that staff believed their supervisors micro-managed projects, were unclear about their priorities and lacked uniform standards for employee performance.

CFPB employees said they did not understand the bureau's hiring, promotion and pay practices, which contributed to the impression those decisions were unfair, the report said.

And while the probe was not meant to investigate discrimination, some employees reported unfair treatment based on race and gender, and said bureau leaders appeared indifferent about the problems, it said.

"These are not easy matters to ferret out and address," Stuart Ishimaru, head of the inclusion office, said on Tuesday in an email to CFPB staff that was seen by Reuters.

"Issues around diversity, inclusion equality and fairness will be ongoing challenges for the agency."

Allegations about unfair treatment have fueled criticism of the new agency by Republican lawmakers, who already hoped to scale back some of the CFPB's authority to oversee financial products such as mortgages.

Lawmakers also requested probes of the bureau's diversity and organizational culture by the U.S. Government Accountability Office and the Federal Reserve's inspector general, which also audits the CFPB.

The bureau, which was created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, announced in May that it was throwing out its performance system after finding that older employees and racial minorities were given lower scores and bonuses than other workers.

Some employees have since told lawmakers that they faced a hostile environment because of their race or gender and suffered retaliation when they tried to report problems.

In response, Cordray asked Ishimaru's group to conduct "listening" sessions across the CFPB and report back on employees' concerns.

The report said many of the problems likely stemmed from the bureau's rapid organization and the pressure to churn out rules and set up programs required by the Dodd-Frank law. That fostered a culture of aggressiveness and an pace that could not be sustained long-term.

Bureau leaders should provide sensitivity training for managers and create a broader culture of respect, the report said. Managers need to communicate more with employees, recognize their achievements and better articulate priorities.

"The bureau does not have to achieve all of its objectives in the short-term. It cannot afford to burn out its key asset, people, and must take steps to develop and retain all of its talent," the report said.

Cordray said the bureau has already begun making some changes, such as hiring specialists to improve internal communications. (Reporting by Emily Stephenson. Editing by Andre Grenon)