On Thursday, December 14, ACA International submitted further comments in response to a new information collection proposed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau titled, “Debt Collection Quantitative Disclosure Testing” (“Disclosure Survey”) under the Paperwork Reduction Act (“PRA”). These comments were in response to the CFPB’s required 30-day notice under the PRA. ACA previously issued a Member Alert on the comments it filed on August 4 in response to the CFPB’s 60-day notice.
In this proposed new information collection request, the CFPB plans to seek approval from the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) to conduct a web-based survey of 8,000 individuals as part of the CFPB’s research on debt collection disclosures. According to the CFPB, it plans to use the information gathered from the web survey “to help assess whether it can improve the clarity of forms used during debt collection to facilitate consumer decision making,” as well as to help inform the development of future consumer disclosures.
Under the PRA, the CFPB is required to issue a 60-day notice of a new information collection request and then a 30-day notice as part of its submission for review by the OMB. In response to the CFPB’s 60-day notice published on June 5, 2017, ACA submitted comments asserting that in order for the information collection to comport with the PRA’s requirements and to provide a meaningful basis for any forthcoming debt collection rules, both the survey instrument itself and the methodology must be carefully designed. Specifically, ACA alerted the Bureau that while the Disclosure Survey was promising in some respects, it contained several shortcomings that would need to be addressed before it could have the “practical utility” required by the PRA.
Unfortunately, instead of revising the survey in line with ACA’s recommendations, in its required 30-day notice materials, the CFPB summarily dismissed substantive concerns about the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected on the basis of ill-fitting and largely non-compelling arguments.
ACA International’s Response
In ACA’s view, given the CFPB’s cursory dismissal of comments submitted by ACA regarding significant flaws in the Bureau’s collection request, it appears the CFPB failed to meaningfully consider the input it received in response to its original notice and instead approached the important PRA process as a mere check-the-box exercise.
As a result, in the comments, ACA addresses the CFPB’s flawed arguments and urges the OMB to withhold approval of the CFPB’s proposed Disclosure Survey until it fulfills its PRA obligations, including taking the required steps “to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected” as already suggested by ACA, and by using “effective and efficient statistical survey methodology appropriate to the purpose for which the information is to be collected.” ACA emphasizes that approving the CFPB’s proposed collection request as it currently stands would allow the Bureau to use the PRA process as a guise for misaligned research and would undermine the transparency, accountability, and openness for which the PRA was created.
ACA also reiterates that robust and transparent disclosure testing is a critical precursor to the release of any new debt collection rules. Thus, the CFPB should refrain from moving forward with the debt collection rulemaking until additional, properly aligned research is conducted.
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