It's about time. That somebody called out the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, that is. As the Washington Examiner's Richard Pollock reported Friday, the Federal Reserve's inspector general has opened an investigation into why what started out as a $55 million renovation of the new bureau's central headquarters has ballooned to $145 million in less than two years. The investigation was requested by Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., chairman of the oversight and investigations subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee, following a heated Jan. 28 hearing in which CFPB Director Richard Cordray refused to provide details about the project requested by McHenry's panel.
Federal construction projects going over budget isn't big news, but when it happens at the CFPB, it's bound to attract some attention. The reason is, the CFPB is as close to an unaccountable federal agency as President Obama and his Democratic congressional buddies dared to make it in 2010 (they were helped by a handful of Republicans). Since the CFPB was created as an agency of the Federal Reserve, Congress has no control over the bureau's budget, and its oversight authority is essentially token. Once the Senate confirms a CFPB director, Congress is all but cut out from having any say over the bureau's operation, including the thousands of regulations it is preparing to unleash on the American people.
On its website, the CFPB offers this reassuring statement: "Transparency is at the core of our agenda. ... You deserve to know what the new bureau is doing for the American public and how we are doing it." But that's as far as transparency goes at CFPB. As Pollock reported earlier this year, the bureau is monitoring millions of Americans' credit card charges and mortgages, even as it refuses to allow the media, members of Congress or the general public to attend meetings of four advisory committees. Public meetings of federal advisory committees became standard operating procedure in 1972, but, as Cordray curtly told the McHenry panel in January, the CFPB isn't covered by the Federal Advisory Committee Act that became law that year.
It's clear the CFPB has little respect for the Freedom of Information Act, either. As Pollock reported three weeks ago, the bureau's FOIA office recently advised the 1,200 CFPB employees that they should “minimize attachments to your calendar appointments." Why? Because a FOIA request for an official's calendar would cover attachments, including memos, policy papers and other important documents. To make sure the message got through, the FOIA office issued a list of “Recommended Calendar Do's and Don'ts.”
Speaking of the FOIA, CFPB officials resolutely refuse to provide relevant documents sought by the Examiner concerning the building renovation. The few cursory documents that were turned over shed no light on the project. Since CFPB has all the time in the world, plus legions of lawyers and a huge budget that Congress can't touch, odds are good that shining the disinfectant of sunlight won't happen any time soon. That's an open invitation for waste, abuse and corruption.