Senator Seeks Special Counsel Probe of 'Burrowing In' at Consumer Bureau

New CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney speaks during a news conference. New CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney speaks during a news conference. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

In the latest wrinkle in the controversy at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a key senator on Thursday wrote to the Office of Special Counsel seeking an investigation of possible wrongful decision making in last January’s conversion of a top political appointee to permanent career status.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has objected to the status of Leandra English, whom departing CFPB Director Richard Cordray named as his successor this fall. English served briefly as CFPB’s acting director until President Trump named his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, to take over. Apparently laying the groundwork for such a move, Cordray, just before Trump’s inauguration, asked the Office of Personnel Management to convert her, which it did.

In Thursday’s letter, Johnson told Special Counsel Henry Kerner that he had received documents he requested from OPM suggesting that the personnel agency “hastily approved Ms. English’s conversion in the waning days of the Obama administration based on information that included errors, potential conflicts of interest and insufficient independent verification.”

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Noting that “burrowing” violates the merit principles of civil service law, Johnson acknowledged that acting OPM chief Kathleen McGettigan argued that the conversion was “free from political influence.”

But he found the vetting process “flawed.” The Consumer Bureau presented English’s application on Dec. 13, nearly three months after the job was posted, he said. OPM reported that 72 applicants applied for the position, with 23 of them deemed qualified. OPM then approved English’s conversion “hastily,” Johnson said, 14 days after the paperwork was received during the holiday season.

“OPM did not correct inaccurate documentation about the CFPB position prior to approval,” the letter continued, noting that English originally was reported to have received an $11,000 salary hike. The correct figure was $43,000, Johnson’s letter stated.

English’s political appointment and the career position were substantially similar, he continued. There was a possible conflict of interest in the role played by English’s former boss, chief of staff Chris D’Angelo, and OPM failed to independently verify CFPB’s information, Johnson wrote.

"OPM is confident in the integrity of our process for reviewing appointments of current or recent political appointees to competitive, career senior executive, or non-political excepted service positions," a spokesperson said in a statement to Government Executive on Friday. "In addition, [the Government Accountability Office] recently reviewed our process and our decisions in the 99 requests we received from agencies between January 1, 2010 and March 17, 2016. In all OPM-approved cases, GAO concurred with OPM's decisions." 

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