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Independent Research at the CFPB

The CFPB is building an Office of Research to support its commitment to evidence-based policymaking. The research office will produce new findings that deepen our understanding of the problems that consumers, firms, and markets encounter. It will also help the CFPB conduct rigorous policy evaluations, which in turn will help maximize our effectiveness in addressing these problems and minimize unintended consequences.

Today, the consumer bureau announced that Sendhil Mullainathan will serve as Assistant Director for Research and lead the work of the Office of Research. Mullainathan brings a wealth of relevant experience, including as Professor of Economics at Harvard University. Sendhil has received a MacArthur Foundation “genius award,” as well as numerous other grants and fellowships, including from the National Science Foundation, the Olin Foundation, the Sloan Foundation, and the Russell Sage Foundation.

Under Sendhil’s leadership, the Office of Research will conduct research on a variety of topics and, in many cases, publish findings under the consumer bureau’s name. Frequently, though, researchers will choose their own topics, data, and methodology themselves, draw their own conclusions, and publish in their own names.

Like other federal regulatory agencies, we encourage this kind of “self-directed” research because it promotes evidence-based, rather than myopic or narrow, policymaking. Self-directed research will help us remain true to the core values that underpin our policymaking: honest investigation, independent thinking, and open discussion.

By offering our research staff the opportunity to pursue original ideas, the CFPB will also be in a better position to attract the best-trained researchers with the skills to strengthen our understanding of the benefits and costs of potential policies. Under the CFPB’s research policy:

  • Researchers may elect to dedicate a substantial portion of their time to self-directed research. They may focus on household finance or behavior, consumer financial firms or markets, or other areas relevant to the mission of the consumer bureau. Other federal financial regulators also provide researchers time for independent research. For example, the portion of time provided at the CFPB will be comparable to that provided across the Federal Reserve System. Researchers who choose to conduct independent research will be evaluated based on research performance, such as their record of publications.
  • Researchers are also encouraged to publish or present their work in peer-reviewed journals and other scholarly venues. The CFPB will not review or censor findings of self-directed research presented externally for policy content, so long as the researcher includes a disclaimer that the work does not necessarily represent the views of the CFPB.

Encouraging original inquiry and independent conclusions will help us act wisely on behalf of the American people. Allowing researchers to publish their findings will increase transparency – and that will help the public to hold us accountable. We are excited to get started.

Raj Date is the Associate Director for Research, Markets, and Regulations.

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