Three recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests have revealed highly questionable expenditures by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The requests were submitted by Judicial Watch, a non-profit government watchdog organization, over the last year. The results are now available here.
According to documents obtained by Judicial Watch, the CFPB spent $479,354 on tuition to George Washington University for a course entitled “Banking Law Fundamentals.” CFPB sent six of their enforcement attorneys to take the course. According to the records, the course was designed to “familiarize participants with the basics of banking law.” Topics included, “The structure and purpose of bank regulation.” Documents obtained include training authorization forms as well as internal emails seeking approval to enroll in the course at agency expense. Among the emails, one from an enforcement attorney read, ““This looks like an awesome agenda for a banking world novice like me.”
The fact that CFPB paid to train its attorneys in banking law fundamentals appears to contradict congressional testimony from CFPB original interim director Elizabeth Warren. Enforcement attorney salaries begin at $173,000 annually, according to other documents obtained from the CFPB, (available here). Such high salaries were defended early on by Warren who claimed that the new agency would need to compete for experienced and talented professionals. From its inception, the CFPB has advertised positions that paid between 60 percent and 90 percent in excess of the guidelines issued by the Office of Personnel Management. FOIA documents reveal that as of the beginning of 2012, 103 workers earned $225,000 or more per year at the CFPB. A student intern was paid $51,620 during “completion of education and study.” Currently, the lowest salary for a job opening on the agency’s website is $85,000.
Another dubious expenditure was $479,353 paid over the course of nine months for sign language translation services. The FOIA documents indicate that the sign language consulting was required to address “communications issues” for deaf employees. The CFPB had spent $13,590 earlier in the year, including $1,185 for an interpreter’s gas mileage. The CFPB said the sign language services allow the agency to provide translation for people who need it at internal and external meetings, presentations and other work-related activities.
The CFPB, which has about 850 employees and had an annual budget of $329 million for 2012, has also come under scrutiny for expenses related to a renovation of its headquarters (as reported here). The agency is not funded through Congressional appropriations, but directly by the Federal Reserve and from funds collected through penalties it assesses.