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Trump administration cuts staff at financial markets watchdog: source

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration moved on Wednesday to shrink a government agency tasked with identifying looming financial risks, notifying around 40 staff members they would be laid off, according to a person familiar with the changes.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a dinner with business leaders at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

The employees at the Office of Financial Research (OFR) were formally told on Wednesday they will lose their jobs as part of a broader reorganization of the agency that was created in the wake of the 2007-2009 global financial crisis, the source said.

The overhaul forms part of a broader push by the Trump administration to reduce government bureaucracy by slashing government jobs and cutting regulations.

Staff at the OFR, an independent bureau within the U.S. Treasury that analyzes market trends to spot financial risks, were told in January that jobs would be eliminated as the administration sought to cut the OFR’s budget by 25 percent to around $76 million, the person said.

Some staff have left voluntarily up until this point, this person said. They added that the OFR is also working with the Treasury to find new roles for other OFR employees.

“We are working to make OFR a more efficient organization with a stronger workforce and culture to better execute on the mission,” a spokesman for the Treasury said in an email statement.

“The plan to reshape the workforce was announced to OFR employees in January, and the headcount reduction is an important step toward streamlining operations and reducing costs,” he added.

In its 2018 budget request, the OFR said its financial year 2016 full-time headcount was 208 but that it aimed to reduce that to around 139. The headcount target remains at approximately 140, roughly 65 percent of the agency’s peak 217 staff, the source said.

The OFR has for years been under attack from congressional Republicans and other critics who claim the agency is unproductive, unnecessary and another form of intrusive government bureaucracy.

Consumer advocates say the bureau provides a critical function by gathering data on areas such as banking, lending and trading from the country’s complex web of federal and state regulators to provide a bird’s-eye view of system-wide risks.

The OFR is one of several financial regulators being overhauled under President Donald Trump, including the Financial Stability Oversight Council, also housed within the Treasury, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

These watchdogs have frozen or are rolling back rules introduced following the financial crisis, such as curbs on predatory lenders and the designation of some firms as systemically risky.

The OFR’s original head, Richard Berner, left at the end of 2017. Ken Phelan, a Treasury official, has served as its acting director since then. The administration has nominated Dino Falaschetti, an economist for congressional Republicans, to fill the role on a full-time basis.

His nomination is pending before the U.S. Senate.

Reporting by Michelle Price; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Tom Brown