Nothing but the best for Consumer Financial Protection Bureau HQ

It’s another case of bureaucrats gone wild, DC mandarins lavishing money on their own offices, and spending more per square foot on renovations to existing, perfectly usable office space than it cost to build lavish buildings like Trump World Tower and the Bellagio Hotel and Casino from scratch.  But hey, four story glass staircases and two story waterfalls and sunken gardens aren’t cheap.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is one of the most powerful and least accountable agencies of the federal government. The intellectual spawn of Senator Elizabeth Warren created by the ill-considered Dodd-Frank law of 2010, when Democrats controlled Congress, the CFPB has broad powers to regulate the financial industry, and is completely unaccountable to Congress’s budgetary powers because its funding comes from the Federal Reserve, the good folks who print money.

As can be expected from such an agency, it is feathering its own nest lavishly. In this case, the nest is rented quarters in Washington, DC, that the agency is paying to renovate to its very high and politically correct standards. Mind you the quarters were perfectly fine for the use of the Office of Thrift Supervision, but when you are Lord of the Financial Markets, nothing but the very best will do.

This scandal is exposed in an Inspector General’s Report. As summarized by the staff of the House Financial Services Committee, the report is shocking.

 The cost of renovating the CFPB’s rented headquarters has spiraled to more than $215 million – $65 million more than the agency’s estimate just six months ago and $120 million more than last year’s estimate, according to the Federal Reserve’s Inspector General.

It also equals more than $590 per square foot being renovated at the CFPB’s rented headquarters.  That means the CFPB is spending much more per square foot than it cost to build the Trump World Tower ($334/square foot), the Bellagio Hotel and Casino ($330/square foot) and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai ($450/square foot).

The renovation project has been mired in controversy.  For more than a year, members of the House Financial Services Committee have questioned CFPB officials about its rising cost, about why an agency that is renting a building is paying for renovations in the first place, and the extravagance of such features as a four-story glass staircase, two-story waterfall and sunken garden.

“When they passed the Dodd-Frank Act, Democrats in Congress and the White House made the CFPB unaccountable to taxpayers and to Congress.  We’re seeing the results of this dangerous unaccountability today in a Washington bureaucracy that is running amok, spending as much as it wants on whatever it wants.  It’s outrageous,” said Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX).

In addition to reporting on the project’s increasing cost, the Inspector General also notes:

  • The CFPB “was unable to locate any documentation of the decision to fully renovate the building.” (page 6 of the report)
  • The CFPB failed to follow all of its own guidelines for gaining approval by its Investment Review Board for the building renovation.  (page 6)
  • Because of this failure, “a sound business case is not available to support the funding of the renovation.” (page 7)

Rep. Patrick McHenry, Chairman of the Financial Services Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee who requested the Inspector General’s report on the CFPB renovations, said:  "The findings of the Inspector General's investigation are deeply troubling and lead to even more questions about the unaccountable design of the CFPB.  The continuously growing price tag is a tremendous waste of funds and, amazingly, there is still no assurance the $216 million price tag won't grow higher.  Now we learn the Bureau, presumably taking a page out of the IRS' playbook, has lost the documentation showing who actually gave final approval for this massive waste.  Coupled with recent accusations of discrimination and retaliation of employees by agency leaders, it has become abundantly clear that it's not 1700 G Street that needs an overhaul, but rather the entire structure of the CFPB."

While the Inspector General reports the current estimated cost of CFPB’s building renovation is $215.8 million, the building was appraised in 2011 for just $153.7 million, according to an audit report released by the Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General in December 2013.

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