August 18, 2020

Cortez Masto Urges Treasury Department Inspector General to Investigate Reports that OCC Officials Shelved Investigations of Banks Engaging in Discriminatory Lending Practices and Redlining

Las Vegas, Nev. – U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) wrote a letter urging the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General to investigate allegations that Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) officials “quietly shelved at least six investigations of discrimination and redlining” in spite of staff recommendations that the agency impose fines and penalties.

The OCC is one of the agencies responsible for ensuring that banks comply with important fair lending laws and regulations-including the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA)-created to safeguard equitable access to credit and housing. In accordance with this responsibility, the agency has the authority to perform fair lending examinations and bring public enforcement actions, seek civil money penalties, and require that banks provide relief to victims when they violate those laws and regulations.

However, recent reports revealed that senior OCC officials have abdicated their responsibilities, allowing banks to continue business as usual despite alleged violations of ECOA and FHA. OCC staff reportedly discovered at least six banks that were allegedly engaging in discriminatory lending practices, but none were penalized or even publicly reprimanded by Trump Administration regulators. 

“This conduct stands in stark contrast to the OCC's requirement to enforce the law, its finding that lending discrimination is 'destructive, morally repugnant, and against the law,' and its commitment to not 'tolerate lending discrimination in any form,'" wrote the lawmakers. "The agency's failure to engage with its authority puts millions of consumers at unnecessary and increased risk.”

Given the recent revelations that the OCC has failed to fulfill its responsibility to protect consumers from lending discrimination, the lawmakers urge the Treasury OIG to conduct a thorough investigation into these allegations.

In July 2020, immediately following the publication of the ProPublica report, Senators Warren, Brown and Cortez Masto led 15 of their colleagues in sending a letter pressing OCC Acting Comptroller Brian Brooks on a set of questions regarding the agency's fair lending oversight under the Trump Administration.

Full text of the letter can be found here.