The NCUA Board played the role of the Grinch at their December meeting when they approved a 2020 budget of $347.4 million and a projected 2021 budget of $360.1 million. These amounts were essentially unchanged from the budget justification shared with the public at their November public briefing. The vote was 2-1, with Board Member Harper voting nay because he didn’t get the extra budget dollars he wants to establish expanded oversight of Consumer Compliance.
There were a total of 28 comment letters sent to the Board. Not a great industry response. This is especially condemning as 18 of the letters directly addressed the Harper proposal for spending our money on the “problem” of ghost abuses by credit unions of the consumer rights of their members. I must admit that NCUA CFO Rendell Jones did a great job of encapsulating some of the 10 comments that addressed the broader issues of the entire budget and the budget process, which is a first and another feather in the agency’s attempt to increase transparency.
While we should all appreciate the efforts at transparency, all it really does is create greater disappointment at the less than vigorous process the board gives to address any significant questions about the budget. I didn’t hear or see a single adjustment to the budget or budget process as a result of the comments from us peons. They spent a lot of time on Harper’s dream project and his disappointment at not getting what he expects, but not a moment on any tough questions about what the future savings will be in time and resources from spending another $20.8M on IT projects like ESM and MERIT.
Can’t somebody at least ask what kind of cost savings will be realized over time in reduced examination man-hours or the reduction of travel expenditures due to implementation of virtual exam strategies? Where and when will we see reduction in those line items due to any capital project?
Shouldn’t we expect that somebody is being held accountable for the nearly $40M that will be spent on ESM by the end of 2020? Why can’t we expect to hear or see any aggressive plan to reduce both the operating and capital budgets as the number of credit unions continues to shrink? Or as “new technologies” are applied to examination protocols that will measurably reduce cost while increasing the quality of oversight? The Board assumes our trust is too easily gained. As in the old Wendy’s ad… “Where’s the beef?”
Are you fed up yet? Do you think that a withdrawal of a few billion dollars from the piggy bank, the NCUSIF, would get their attention? For starters, let’s see if we can reinvigorate the discussion around private insurance options that could unchain over 700 state-chartered credit unions currently in the 10 states that today allow for the private option. Let’s lobby those other 10 states that have private insurance authorized in their state acts but have not activated that option. Let’s find out the reasons that constrain ASI from growing beyond the current 131 credit unions using them and solve those problems. Let’s do something that will make our members proud of our stewardship of their capital. Let’s do something besides talk!