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Topics: CFPB

Costs spiral for CFPB's lavish new headquarters as Congress fumes

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Photo - Consumer Finance Protection Board officials are spending $95 million renovating their headquarters building seen here at 1700 G Street, NW, in the nation's capital. The structure was building in the 1970s. (Photo by Graeme Jennings, Washington Examiner)
Consumer Finance Protection Board officials are spending $95 million renovating their headquarters building seen here at 1700 G Street, NW, in the nation's capital. The structure was building in the 1970s. (Photo by Graeme Jennings, Washington Examiner)
Congress,Watchdog,Richard Pollock,Fiscal Policy,Federal Budget,Corruption,CFPB,Constitutionality,Waste and Fraud,Follow the Money

Renovation costs for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's new headquarters building have doubled, soaring from $55 million to $95 million, the Washington Examiner has learned.

Such costs are at least twice the typical renovation expenses for the most luxurious commercial office space available in downtown Washington, D.C., according to architectural experts.

Moreover, the $95 million is nearly double the General Services Administration's $50 million annual budget for construction, acquisition and renovation for all federal buildings throughout the country.

The skyrocketing renovation costs translate roughly to $80,000 for each of the 1,200 CFPB employees working at the agency, which is located one block from the White House. The building at 1700 G Street NW is new by Washington standards, having been built in the 1970's.

For Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., who is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee's subcommittee on oversight and investigations, the lavish renovation is evidence that the CFPB is out of control. "This is absolutely a runaway agency," he said.

The renovation rate for the 300,000 square foot office building is $316 per square foot, double the $150 per square foot costs for renovating Washington's luxury commercial Class "A" office buildings with high-end restrooms, lobbies, elevators, hallways and office suites.

The renovation costs for an average Class "B" office building are even lower at about $100 per square foot, making the CFPB costs up to three times the going rate for quality facilities.

Last September, the agency retained the prestigious Chicago-based architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, for $7.2 million, according to federal contracting databases. A CFPB official confirmed that Skidmore is the official contractor for the headquarters renovation.

The firm is known for extravagant and lavish designs. Last month, for example, Skidmore touted the inauguration of the luxury Dubai-based Cayan Towers that dramatically "twists" upwards for 75 stories.

Skidmore also designed and engineered Dubai's other notable skyscraper Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, which houses Armani Residences.

The agency initially buried the cost explosion in a published April 2013 budget document that received little public notice.

At a June 18 subcommittee oversight hearing, Stephen Agostini, the bureau's chief financial officer first informed the lawmakers their costs had doubled when he was asked by Rep. Sean Duffy, R-WI.

Duffy told the Examiner the agency gave him a document just prior to the hearing that still contained the outdated $55 million number.

In an interview, the congressman recalled his shock in learning the budget had doubled. "I was stunned," he said. "It's extravagant."

Agostini hinted that the costs might go even higher. In the June hearing, Duffy asked, "do you anticipate any more budgeting necessary in 2014 or is $95 million going to do the job?"

"Congressman, we are at the early stages of understanding what it would cost to renovate a building that is 30 years old," Agostini replied.

Agostini also complained that "we have floors at 1700 G Street where we cannot run telephone lines, run electrical lines, run computer lines, because when the building was built, it was not anticipated they would use those things."

Duffy said he was stunned when he heard Agostini's comment about no phone lines: "My jaw dropped to think he wants us to believe there's no phone lines in the building."

The building's previous occupants were the Office of Thrift Supervision and the Comptroller of the Currency, two agencies that required sophisticated information technology infrastructures to conduct complicated financial services activities.

A CFPB spokesman told the Examiner in an email that the $55 million renovation cost estimate was from an unidentified consultant used prior to the bureau's planned move to the building.

"These amounts were based on estimates that had previously been provided to the prior occupant of 1700 G Street by a consultant that they had hired. However, the total cost of implementing all recommended renovations to the building was higher," the agency wrote.

The business development team of OTJ Architects, a nationally recognized architecture and interior design, firm told the Examiner that the $316 per square foot estimate was twice the $150 per square foot for a high-end Class "A" building.

"I think $316 seems high if you're just going to do a renovation, because a Class "A" has the highest value. It seems high at $316," an OTJ official told the Examiner. The official requested anonymity because several firm employees assisted in preparing a response to the Examiner's inquiry.

Twenty-six federal agencies have turned to OTJ for architectural services, including the GSA, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security.

A CFPB spokesman said the bureau has not given anyone in Congress any specific renovation budget numbers, even though lawmakers from both the House Financial Services and the Senate Banking committees have requested them.

"The question is, why does it need to be a secret?" said Tom Schatz, president of the non-partisan government watchdog group, Citizens Against Government Waste.

"Is there something involving national security or some kind of 'black budget' that we can't get this information? This is not the CIA," he said.

The Dodd-Frank Act that established the consumer agency exempts it from congressional oversight.

That means that "by design, it is deeply flawed and unaccountable," McHenry told the Examiner.

Rep. Al Green, D-TX, the ranking minority member of the subcommittee, did not return a reporter's telephone call seeking comment.

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