Judicial Watch Obtains Records Detailing Questionable Expenditures at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
AUGUST 15, 2012
CFPB Spent $479,354 to Hire Sign Language Translation Services for Two Entry Level Employees and Sent High-Paid Agency Attorneys to “Banking Law Fundamentals” Class
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that it has obtained documents from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) detailing questionable expenses at the agency, 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 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 from then-interim CFPB head, and current Massachusetts Senate candidate, Elizabeth Warren in 2011 regarding the experience level of the agency’s highly paid attorneys.
During a May 24, 2011, hearing, 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.
Judicial Watch previously obtained documents revealing the generous salaries and bonuses of CFPB employees. According to the records, some CFPB workers were hired at salaries twice the maximum ordinarily allowed under guidelines published each year by the OPM. A dozen new hires take home more than $225,000 a year, while a student intern was paid $51,620 “through completion of education & study.”
The CFPB is not subject to the congressional appropriations process, and instead receives its funds from the Federal Reserve’s operating expenses. President Obama used a controversial “recess appointment” to install Richard Cordray, who succeeded Elizabeth Warren as head of the agency. Congress was not in recess at the time of the appointment. Judicial watch uncovered records demonstrating that Cordray, who was not vetted by the U.S. Senate, questioned whether the courts would uphold the constitutionality of his own appointment.
“These records document what appear to be wasteful practices inside the CFPB as it assumes unprecedented authority over the activities of the private sector,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “But this is to be expected with an agency operating outside of congressional authority, and headed by a radical director who never would have survived vetting by the U.S. Senate.”