The Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee highlighted the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) radical structure at a hearing today, and members continued to express concern that the agency operates without basic oversight and accountability.
The CFPB, created under the Dodd-Frank Act, is controlled by a single individual who cannot be fired for poor performance and who exercises sole control over the agency, its hiring and its budget.
For Fiscal Year 2013, the CFPB estimated that it would spend $541 million and increase its staff to more than 1,200. The CFPB is able to spend this money with no oversight from Congress, the President or the Federal Reserve from which it obtains its funding.
"In the end, this single director can disregard advice and manage as he wishes. He has little accountability to the Administration, and even less to Congress; his budget is secure. As a result, it should come as no surprise that the Bureau has operated with less transparency and less concern for fiscal discipline than is appropriate for a steward of taxpayer funds," said Subcommittee Chairman Patrick McHenry (R-NC).
With the lack of Congressional control over appropriations to the CFPB, and the lack of Administration control over the CFPB's budget, the large budget and broad regulatory discretion conferred upon the CFPB present substantial risk of waste, fraud and abuse.
"As a result of this lack of accountability, certain expenditures have been called into question, such as the $55 million that has been set aside for renovating the CFPB headquarters building just steps from the White House. Incidentally, $55 million is more than the entire annual construction and acquisition budget for GSA for the totality of federal buildings," McHenry added, referencing the General Services Administration.
Other areas of concern that the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee reviewed during its hearing include:
The CFPB spends a substantial amount of money on travel by its employees. In the first half of Fiscal Year 2013, the CFPB spent $5.9 million on travel compared to $68.4 million on personnel compensation, excluding benefits. Of the CFPB's 1,168 current employees, 299 are examiners, who travel frequently. Assuming that for the balance of the year travel costs continue at the same pace, the CFPB will have spent nearly $12 million by the end of this fiscal year.
This substantial travel expense requires strong procedures and controls to prevent abuse, particularly considering the waste recently revealed at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and GSA conferences. However, according to an independent audit of the CFPB performed by ASR Analytics, this is not the case:
"The travel request is approved by the Supervisor without any knowledge of the estimated dollar amount to be expended on the trip. Further, Travel Vouchers are not routed for approval by the traveler's Supervisor. We recommend that the dollar amount be stated in the initial travel request and approved by the Supervisor. Additionally, CFPB should strengthen internal control by instituting approval of the Travel Voucher by the Supervisor before it is routed to the Approving Official in the Office of Travel for payment."
The CFPB is not required to follow Office of Management and Budget (OMB) guidelines, rules and regulations. For example, on May 31, 2013, OMB issued a "Controller Alert" related to conference spending by agencies over which the OMB has jurisdiction. This alert related to agency spending in the context of the sequester, and grew out of the discovery of waste and abuse at the 2010 General Services Administration's Las Vegas conference. Coincidentally, this Controller Alert was issued just prior to news of the wasteful spending at the IRS conference. However, pursuant to its exemption under Dodd-Frank, the CFPB is not required to comply with this OMB alert.
The CFPB's refusal to participate in the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Employee Viewpoint Survey. ASR Analytics, in its independent performance audit results reported on November 12, 2012, recommended that the "CFPB should participate in an OPM led, Annual Employee Viewpoint Survey to provide a mechanism for anonymous employee feedback." Despite this specific recommendation that the CFPB join the OPM's survey, which 98 percent of executive agencies participate in, the CFPB instead decided to perform its own survey. By taking this action, the CFPB avoided OPM's independent review of its staffs' concerns. This lack of independent insight into the CFPB further demonstrates the Bureau's lack of transparency and oversight.
The CFPB employee survey revealed significant concerns regarding the management of the Bureau's staff. According to the CFPB's annual employee survey, only 35.6 percent of employees agree or strongly agree that the CFPB takes steps "to deal with a poor performer who cannot or will not improve." This statistic reflects that 64.6 percent of the staff do not see the CFPB as ensuring that employees are held accountable. If the CFPB cannot hold its own staff accountable for their failures, it is difficult to believe that the CFPB will be accountable in other areas.
Furthermore, the CFPB claims to "invest in world-class training" for its employees. However, in its own survey when its own employees were asked "how satisfied are you with the training you receive for your present job," only 38.8 percent agreed that the training they received was sufficient.
The lack of accountability to both Congress and the administration for an agency run by a single director creates enormous risk of abuse through the broad discretion enabled by the CFPB's Civil Penalty Fund.The director of the CFPB can effectively direct the managers of the Penalty Fund, a repository for funds collected by the CFPB in judicial or administrative proceedings, to follow his particular wishes with regard to compensating victims throughout the United States. It appears the CFPB need not win its own cases -- instead the CFPB can identify cases brought by other Federal, State and even private plaintiffs and selectively intervene. Such vast authority demands accountability.