Dueling CFPB Chiefs Face Dueling Allegations

Sally Greenberg, with the National Consumers League, right, outside the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in Washington on Nov. 27. Sally Greenberg, with the National Consumers League, right, outside the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in Washington on Nov. 27. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Less than 24 hours after a federal judge denied a request to prevent Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney from taking the reins at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, both he and his rival acting director are facing allegations of impropriety.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, on Wednesday demanded information from the Office of Personnel Management about its decision to allow Leandra English to move from a political position at OPM to a career position at CFPB shortly before President Trump’s inauguration.

Last week, former CFPB Director Richard Cordray appointed her to be acting director of the agency, triggering a standoff with the White House over interim leadership at the agency while it awaits nomination and confirmation of a permanent director. Johnson said that although English was granted a career position, a controversial practice known as “burrowing,” she continued to work at the agency in a number of capacities, including its chief of staff.

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“Ms. English was not the sole political conversion to CFPB during the Obama administration, but she was the only conversion of a senior leadership political appointee, the principal deputy chief of staff to the OPM director, to a career position at CFPB,” Johnson wrote to acting OPM Director Kathleen McGettigan. “If not for the conversion from a political appointment at OPM to a career position at CFPB during the Obama administration, Ms. English may not be employed in any position at CFPB.”

Johnson requested from OPM all documents and communications relating to English’s burrowing, a summary of the process surrounding the decision and what internal controls govern OPM’s personnel decisions. He also seemed to insinuate that English and Cordray had orchestrated the ongoing battle over the leadership of the agency.

“On Nov. 24, 2017, less than 11 months after Ms. English’s conversion to a career position, former CFPB Director Richard Cordray appointed Ms. English as CFPB deputy director,” Johnson wrote. “A mere three days later, on Nov. 27, 2017, Ms. English was fully prepared to file a lawsuit seeking an emergency temporary restraining order to serve in the capacity of acting director of CFPB.”

Meanwhile, a government watchdog group demanded that Johnson and his committee investigate Mulvaney’s use of OMB resources while serving in his capacity as acting director of CFPB.

The Campaign for Accountability argued that Mulvaney may have skirted federal appropriations laws by employing OMB staff to answer CFPB press inquiries. The Antideficiency Act limits the ability of federal agencies to use spend money above Congress-appropriated limits or use agency resources for purposes not laid out in appropriations statutes.

On Monday, multiple news organizations reported that press inquiries to CFPB were directed to OMB Communications Director John Czwartacki, which the watchdog argued could constitute a violation of that law. Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Daniel Stevens noted that Mulvaney, in his capacity as director of OMB, is responsible for reporting all potential Antideficiency Act violations to Trump and to Congress, as well as the comptroller general.

“The law requires that federal dollars be spent for the purposes for which they were appropriated,” Stevens wrote. “Regardless of the questions surrounding the leadership [of] CFPB, if OMB staff members—receiving taxpayer funded salaries to work for OMB—are actually working for the CFPB, they may be violating the Antideficiency Act.”

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