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Watchdog: Follow the Money

No space in CFPB's $139m renovated headquarters for a third of its employees

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Politics,Congress,Watchdog,Richard Pollock,Finance and Banking,CFPB,Follow the Money

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau officials are spending $139 million to renovate their headquarters, but a third of the bureau's employees still won't have offices, the Washington Examiner has learned.

The CFPB had 1,335 employees as of last September, but only about two-thirds of the D.C.-based employees will be able to work in the renovated facility at 1700 G St. NW, across the street from the White House complex.

The project's costs have tripled from $55 million to $139 million in only two years. It has sparked criticism from Congress, especially from members of the House Financial Services Committee.

When the facility is completed in late 2016, it “will house over 1,000 employees and contractors, with the remainder in an off site location yet to be determined,” CFPB told the National Capital Planning Commission in a Jan. 3 formal submission obtained by the Examiner.

“Approximately two-thirds of the CFPB's D.C. based employees will be housed in 1700 G Street,” the bureau said in a section titled “Existing and Future Assigned Employment.”

A CFPB spokesman confirmed to the Examiner that the new headquarters won't accommodate all of its employees and that “a second, smaller location will be needed.”

The spokesman did not say how many CFPB employees will have to be housed in the second facility or what it will cost.

In its fiscal 2013 financial report, the bureau said “the CFPB was still below the full employment levels“ at the end of FY 2013, and that growth in employees will be “steady” in future years.

Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., a member of the House Financial Services Committee, charged that CFPB Director Richard Cordray misled Congress about the renovation project during testimony in January.

“Richard Cordray intentionally misled the committee as to what the cost overruns were related to. He wanted us to believe they were infrastructure costs of a dilapidated building. When instead, what we suspected, it was an opulent renovation," Duffy said.

“This is another example of the CFPB’s incompetence, not just in protecting consumers, but in managing their own affairs,” Duffy said.

A spokesman for Cordray did not respond to an Examiner request for comment on Duffy's remarks.

Although Congress has never received any detailed information about the design of the new headquarters, the Examiner obtained a 122-page CFPB report to the NCPC.

Last July, the Examiner asked CFPB for architectural materials related to the renovation in a Freedom of Information Act request.

The agency furnished 15 largely blank pages and withheld 335 pages that the agency said were responsive to the Examiner’s request. The Examiner filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Wednesday seeking access to the withheld pages.

In the report to NCPC, CFPB did not list specific materials to be used for the interior of the approximately 503,000-square-foot building, but it did describe ambitious plans for the exterior and for new landscaping at an adjacent plaza.

The CFPB told NCPC there will be a “complete modernization” of the building, which was built in 1976. The interior will be demolished, leaving the skeletal exterior of the current building.

One hint of the new types of materials that will be used inside the building is found in the lobby design, which will employ “low-iron glass” found in upscale bathrooms, as well as in greenhouses and aquariums.

“Although more expensive as the manufacturing process is more demanding, low-iron glass is often used in higher-end uses such as aquariums, shower enclosures, doors (and) showroom windows,” according to Austin Stairs, a Texas retailer.

The roof of the new CFPB headquarters will feature a custom-made “green” rooftop with a “Lungo Mare” sculptured seat, Maya Lin stools, banquette seating and a play yard for children of CFPB employees, according to the document.

The boldest details are reserved for the 16,000-square foot adjoining plaza.

According to CFPB, its vision of the public plaza will feature sunken gardens, cascading waterfalls on reflective carnelian granite, a “living wall,” timber lounges, sculptural seating, a reflecting fountain, a covered “porch” canopy with wisteria and a bronze kiosk.

A feature of the facility: “Running east to west through the plaza, a reflective carnelian granite water table extends out of the plaza and interacts with the public sidewalk, luring in the curious passerby,” exude CFPB designers.

The plans also include “a calmer informal seating area under a shady bosque,” and at “'porch’ level, visitors can perch on timber lounges.”

CFPB officials promise to build “a canopy over the ‘porch’ from the elements, intimacy in scale,” with “flowering vines.” They add, “The water cascade creates an atmosphere of white noise.”

CFPB officials hope the public plaza will be a big hit.

“Seating borders along paths provide opportunities of restful observation to gaze upon passing visitors,” they promise. “Within the tree bosque, a casual and less hurried wandering occurs,” which they hope “facilitates chance interactions.”

CFPB is about to vacate its headquarters this spring as renovation begins and move into a new building for about 30 months at an additional cost of $22.3 million.

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, an elite architectural firm, has been retained to do the overall renovation. The firm has been paid $9.2 million to date, according to USAspending.gov.

Thomas Balsley Associates, a New York-based landscaping firm is a subcontractor to Skidmore and will be responsible for the plaza and other outdoor landscaping, according to a CFPB spokesman.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., the ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee and a passionate supporter of CFPB, did not respond to multiple Examiner queries about the renovation.

CFPB building project submission to the National Capital Planning Commission

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