Topics: CFPB

Examiner Editorial: Federal agency can't hide exploding cost of refurbishing its HQ

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Opinion,Editorial,CFPB,Richard Cordray,Senate Banking Committee,Washington Examiner,Magazine,Mike Johanns

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray evidently is feeling unfamiliar heat after resorting to a disreputable form of sophistry as a substitute for honest discussion and debate. During a June 10 hearing of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, for example, Cordray responded to a question from Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., on the ballooning cost of CFPB's headquarters renovation by saying: “This has been out there and taken as gospel in the public record for some time. It's a fiction of the Washington Examiner that this project started out at $55 million and now has ballooned to higher proportions. There never was any expectation that this project could be completed for $55 million. That is false.”

Cordray, the former Ohio Attorney General, was straw-manning, an evasion tactic known and loved by professional politicians, double-talking bureaucrats and courtroom sophists everywhere. Instead of answering a question truthfully, the fast-talking practitioner erects a straw man that is easily demolished. In this case, the straw man is Cordray’s invention of a mythical claim by the Examiner that “this project could be completed for $55 million.” Simply put, the Examiner never made that claim.

The truth is, as the Examiner's Richard Pollock has exhaustively reported using the bureau's own numbers and those of the General Services Administration, the cost of the CFPB's headquarters renovation has exploded. Many of the reasons behind the skyrocketing renovation costs ought to be, as Johanns accurately put it, “embarrassing” for Cordray. The projected cost total of $55 million came from the Office of Thrift Supervision, the previous occupant of the CFPB's headquarters. Members of the House Financial Services Committee have also demanded but not received answers for several years on why that total has more than doubled to $139 million.

It should be noted that the Examiner filed a federal Freedom of Information Act request with CFPB on July 24, 2013, for documents concerning the renovation project. The CFPB responded for the next eight months with delays, evasions and other abuses of the FOIA. For example, CFPB told the Examiner Sept. 19, 2013, that officials had located 257 pages that were responsive to the FOIA, but were withholding 254 pages. Similarly, the bureau said on Dec. 19, 2013, that another 93 pages had been located but 81 pages were held back. So on March 19, 2014, the Examiner filed an FOIA lawsuit in federal court, assisted by Judicial Watch, in an attempt to force CFPB to stop playing games and produce the documents for public examination.

As an Examiner editor put it when the FOIA suit was filed, "documents to explain why a government bureau is spending so lavishly on renovations to its headquarters are exactly the kind of information the FOIA is meant to make available to taxpayers. We shouldn't have to go to court to get them.” Somebody in the White House should explain to the CFPB director that his actions aren't helping the president who appointed him or the American taxpayers who pay him.

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