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Watchdog: Accountability

Two new whistleblowers surface, are subpoenaed in CFPB controversy on employee discrimination

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New allegations of employee discrimination and retaliation within the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau emerged Thursday as a House subcommittee voted to subpoena two more bureau whistleblowers -- for their own protection.

Ali Naraghi, an examiner, and Kevin Williams, a former quality monitor at the CFPB's Office of Consumer Response, charge they have been the victims of discrimination at the agency. Both men "requested that the subcommittee compel their testimony to protect their interests and guard against retaliation," said subcommittee chairman Rep. Patrick McHenry.

They would be the first CFPB employees to appear before the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations since whistleblower Angela Martin testified in April about racial and gender discrimination at the bureau, which she described as widespread.

"What I'm very excited for are the people who came forward" Thursday, Martin told the Washington Examiner after the vote. "I testified that there are scores and dozens in my stead. These are two brave people who are willing to come forward."

Among the allegations Martin laid before the lawmakers was that the Consumer Response unit's staff was so predominately African-American, the employees had derisively nicknamed it “The Plantation.”

An independent investigator hired by CFPB later backed up Martin's story, telling Congress the bureau was a “toxic workplace” filled with many cases of racial and gender discrimination. A report done for the bureau by outside consultant Deloitte also concluded that a lack of accountability for workplace diversity was “pervasive across CFPB," and said the bureau “primarily recruits and hires individuals with Ivy League backgrounds.”

The allegations of unfair hiring and promotion practices have tarnished the agency's Image, which was created in part to fight racial and gender discrimination and unfair practices in consumer credit markets, such as mortgages, credit cards and student loans.


CFPB examiner Ali Naraghi poses with Sen. Elizabeth Warren in his profile photo on LinkedIn.
At the same time, the CFPB has also been involved in a string of controversies since its creation three years ago in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and the Dodd-Frank Act. Congress is also looking into the ballooning costs of renovating a building near the White House for use as a headquarters for CFPB as well as concerns about privacy and cybersecurity in light of the agency's plan to harvest and store data on millions of Americans' mortgages and credit card accounts.

Naraghi has worked for the CFPB since July 2011, the month it was formed. He previously served as a supervisory financial analyst for the Federal Reserve, of which the CFPB is a part. His LinkedIn profile photo shows him posing with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat who was instrumental in the creation of the bureau.

A colleague at the bureau recommended him on the social networking service, calling him "a source you can trust, someone that will be completely honest with you so that you can feel confident as a decision maker."

Williams was a quality monitor/contract officer II for the bureau from March 2011 to February of this year, his LinkedIn profile says.

While the Thursday morning vote for the subcommittee was taken by voice, and no yea-or-nay tally was recorded, the vote appeared to be nearly unanimous — a contrast to the rancor and division among Democrats and Republicans on the full House Financial Services Committee.

Rep. Al Green of Texas, the subcommittee's ranking Democrat, asked to broaden the investigation to look into discrimination claims at other federal financial agencies and at banks. If the subcommittee did that, he said, he would support the subpoenas for Naraghi and Williams.

McHenry, a North Carolina Republican, acknowledged Green's work on civil rights and said promised that the subcommittee would listen to complaints "of anyone within [its] jurisdiction."

CORRECTION: The Federal Reserve does not have oversight of the CFPB, though the agency is part of the Federal Reserve. The Washington Examiner regrets the error. This story was originally posted at 1:55 p.m. June 12 and was updated at 11 a.m. June 13 to reflect this correction.

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