GOP Battles $216M Facelift for Consumer Watchdog Building

Thursday, 03 Jul 2014 02:00 PM

By Drew MacKenzie

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Republicans are criticizing a renovation project costing up to $216 million for an old building used by a new federal consumer watchdog department.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau plans to renovate the six-story "dump" while also turning the area outside into a "place of rest and contemplation" featuring a 42-inch waterfall and a tree-shaded reflecting pool and seating area, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The fight over the project has resulted in clashes between the GOP and Democrats at House and Senate hearings and also touched off an internal investigation of the inspector general.

On Wednesday, the IG released a report saying the cost of the 1976 concrete building's facelift, plus the price of paying for temporary rental space for the bureau's 1,400 workers, could total $216 million.

North Carolina GOP Rep. Patrick McHenry has called the report "deeply troubling" and said that it was proof that government bureaucracy has run rampant. "The continuously growing price tag is a tremendous waste of funds," he told the Journal.

Oklahoma GOP Sen. Tom Coburn slammed the plan earlier this month during a Senate Banking Committee hearing. "We're buying top-dollar design and construction at a time that we don't have the money to pay for it," Coburn said.

But CFPB officials, citing General Services Administration estimates, say the actual cost of renovation will only be $139 million, not including temporary office space, some of which would be needed anyway to accommodate staff unable to be housed in the current facility near the White House.

"It's a dump," the bureau's director Richard Cordray said at a House hearing earlier this month, while noting the renovations mainly consist of replacing old windows, updating air conditioning and plumbing, and replacing the building's leaky roof.

Republicans say the new consumer protection agency formed in 2010 has been given excessive power in handling financial products such as credit cards, mortgages, and student loans, the Journal reported.

The agency, which comes under the Federal Reserve umbrella and thus outside the control of Congress, has subpoena power and can impose heavy fines against companies which break federal financial regulations.

The GOP has targeted the agency in demanding data from the financial industry and denounced CFPB's probe into alleged auto-lending discrimination. Now the GOP has set its sights on dismantling the 30-month building project due to begin this fall.

Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas compared the facelift to expensive architectural projects around the world during a committee hearing while displaying large photos of the Trump World Tower in New York, the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, and the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the Journal reported.

"I don't know how many other federal buildings have these features," Hensarling said.

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