CFPB’s spending spree on high-priced classes
Judicial Watch recently obtained documents showing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has not curbed its spending on high-priced classes. Records obtained on July 3, 2013 responsive to a June 4, 2013 records request show that the agency is shopping for in-house Harvard-style “leadership” classes for its General Counsel Meredith Fuchs, among other top brass.
Indeed, in a May 20, 2013 email, CFPB Learning Solutions Program Manager Matt Sacco tells CFPB Procurement Officer Elie Stowe that the agency has “two ranges of programs planned from [Harvard Kennedy School of Government] planned for Senior Managers and above at CFPB:
- For select CFPB Senior Managers – HKSG – “Strategic Management of Regulatory Enforcement Agencies” – $6,900 [and similar HKSG course(s), at similar costs]
- For select CFPB Executives – HKSG – “Senior Leaders in Government” – $17,400 [and similar HKSG course(s), at similar costs]”
This phase of Judicial Watch’s ongoing investigation into CFPB’s spending practices was prompted by a “pre-solicitation notice” published by Stowe at www.fedbizopps.gov. Pre-solicitation notice number CFP-13-P-00039 sought “quotes for various Senior/Executive Manager workshops similar to the Harvard Kennedy School of Government programs.” Pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. sec. 552, Judicial Watch requested all communications, budget information, and policy guidance on the notice from October 1, 2012 through the present. In response, the agency produced 29 barely legible, heavily redacted pages.
This disclosure follows earlier instances of questionable CFPB spending which Judicial Watch has exposed, including a $479,354 bill for sign language translation services to assist two entry level employees and a “Banking Law Fundamentals” class at George Washington University for the agency’s top attorneys. Judicial Watch obtained the records pursuant to two separate Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests submitted to the CFPB on June 18, 2012.
With respect to the banking class, Judicial Watch filed its FOIA request after finding a May 31, 2012, purchase order published at www.usaspending.gov indicating the CFPB paid George Washington University $4,500 in class tuition on behalf of six employees to attend the “Banking Law Fundamentals” class. Responsive documents included training authorization forms as well as internal emails seeking approval to enroll in the course at agency expense.
According to the records, the purpose of the George Washington University course, which took place on June 8, 2012, was to “familiarize participants with the basics of banking law.” Topics included, “The structure and purpose of bank regulation.”
In pursuing the invitation to enroll, Enforcement Attorney Christina Coll emailed Acting Litigation Deputy Deborah Morris on May 4, 2011, saying: “This looks like an awesome agenda for a banking world novice like me.” While Ms. Coll’s salary is unknown, according to records previously uncovered by Judicial Watch, other Enforcement Attorneys received starting salaries as high as $173,000 per year.
The fact that CFPB paid to train its attorneys in banking law fundamentals at taxpayer expense appears to contradict congressional testimony in 2011 by then-interim CFPB head, now U.S. Senator for Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren regarding the experience level of the agency’s highly paid attorneys.
During a May 24, 2011, hearing, then-U.S. Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle asked why starting salaries at the agency exceeded Office of Personnel Management (OPM) standards by up to 90%: “How do you justify that kind of a disparity in salaries between a government worker and the folks that are going to be hired by your regulatory agency?” asked Rep. Buerkle. Warren defended the salaries, saying the consumer bureau is competing with the financial services industry for talent and “we’ll never be able to pay like the financial services industry pays.”
Regarding the translation services, Judicial Watch uncovered records indicating the agency spent $479,353 to help resolve two entry-level employees’ communications issues. On April 12, 2012, the CFPB paid $465,764 for sign language translation services from the date of the purchase order through the end of the year. The agency had spent $13,590 earlier in the year, including $1,185 for the interpreter’s gas mileage.
Warren, now serving on the U.S. Senate Banking Committee, was a professor of law at Harvard University prior to joining the CFPB then running for Congress. As a result of another aspect of Judicial Watch’s investigation into the agency, the Senate Banking Committee this week directed the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the scope and legality of CFPB’s data collection activities.
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