The Washington D.C. based legal watchdog group Judicial Watch announced on Wednesday that it obtained documents, through to two separate Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, showing that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau spent $479,354 for sign language translation services, that assisted two entry level staffers and a “Banking Law Fundamentals” class at George Washington University for the agency’s top attorneys. According to JW:
With respect to the banking class, Judicial Watch filed its FOIA request after finding a May 31, 2012, purchase order published at usaspending.gov indicating the CFPB paid George Washington University $4,500 in class tuition on behalf of six employees to attend the “Banking Law Fundamentals” class. Responsive documents included training authorization forms as well as internal emails seeking approval to enroll in the course at agency expense.
According to the records, the purpose of the George Washington University course, which took place on June 8, 2012, was to “familiarize participants with the basics of banking law.” Topics included, “The structure and purpose of bank regulation.”
In pursuing the invitation to enroll, Enforcement Attorney Christina Coll emailed Acting Litigation Deputy Deborah Morris on May 4, 2011, saying: “This looks like an awesome agenda for a banking world novice like me.” While Ms. Coll’s salary is unknown, according to records previously uncovered by Judicial Watch, other Enforcement Attorneys received starting salaries as high as $173,000 per year.
The fact that CFPB paid to train its attorneys in banking law fundamentals at taxpayer expense appears to contradict congressional testimony from then-interim CFPB head, and current Massachusetts Senate candidate, Elizabeth Warren in 2011 regarding the experience level of the agency’s highly paid attorneys.
During a May 24, 2011, hearing, U.S. Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle asked why starting salaries at the agency exceeded Office of Personnel Management (OPM) standards by up to 90%: “How do you justify that kind of a disparity in salaries between a government worker and the folks that are going to be hired by your regulatory agency?” asked Rep. Buerkle. Warren defended the salaries, saying the consumer bureau is competing with the financial services industry for talent and “we’ll never be able to pay like the financial services industry pays.”
Regarding the translation services, Judicial Watch uncovered records indicating the agency spent $479,353 to help resolve two entry-level employees’ communications issues. On April 12, 2012, the CFPB paid $465,764 for sign language translation services from the date of the purchase order through the end of the year. The agency had spent $13,590 earlier in the year, including $1,185 for the interpreter’s gas mileage.
Judicial Watch previously obtained documents revealing the generous salaries and bonuses of CFPB employees. According to the records, some CFPB workers were hired at salaries twice the maximum ordinarily allowed under guidelines published each year by the OPM. A dozen new hires take home more than $225,000 a year, while a student intern was paid $51,620 “through completion of education & study.”
Elizabeth Warren advocated for the creation of the CFPB and through the Dodd-Frank banking bill, the CFPB was established as a result of her lobbying for it. According to CNN she said, that the CFPB would “make basic financial practices such as taking out a mortgage or loan more clear and transparent while ferreting out unfair lending practices.” She is currently running as the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts against Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican.