Dozens of CFPB workers say “the bureau’s lack of accountability is enabling managers to create their own minifiefdoms, stock the ranks with inexperienced and unqualified friends and retaliate against anybody who disagrees”
|Bureaucrats gone wild: Feds describe racial hostility,
discrimination inside new Obama agency
America's newest federal agency, charged with regulating financial institutions to prevent another hostile economic downturn, is having troubles regulating hostilities and discrimination among its own employees.
Evidence gathered by congressional investigators, internal agency documents and Washington Times interviews with workers discloses scores of cases of U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau employees seeking protection from racially offensive, sexist or discriminatory behavior, including that:
• A naturalized U.S. citizen, with more than a decade of service with the U.S. government, was called an "f'ing foreigner" by management.
• A department was internally dubbed "the Plantation" because of the number of blacks working in it — all supervised by white managers — without any obvious promotional track or way to get transferred.
• White employees were twice as likely to get the most favorable personnel ratings in employee reviews, as were minorities.
• Managers intimidated and retaliated against employees for voicing complaints or offering an alternative point of view — from denying vacation requests to hiring unqualified friends to supervise jobs and then asking subordinates to train them.
Evidence of discriminatory pay practices in the agency's own statistics have even resulted in promises by management of emergency pay raises for minority workers to create more parity, the documents show.
It's not the storyline that America's newest federal agency wanted at its inception.
CFPB, the brainchild of Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, was created by then-Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and then-Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts.
The latter two Democrats pushed through legislation in Congress named after them that created the agency to protect consumers from predatory banks and lending institutions blamed for the 2007-2009 financial crisis. And Ms. Warren, now considered by some as a potential presidential candidate in 2016, became its first leader.
Since then, the agency has been a political football, roundly opposed by Republicans as an excessive regulatory power play and embraced by liberals who saw it as a necessary fix to a financial system gone awry.
Away from the political fray on Capitol Hill, dozens of workers at the CFPB say the bureau's lack of accountability is enabling managers to create their own minifiefdoms, stock the ranks with inexperienced and unqualified friends and retaliate against anybody who disagrees with their agenda.
The House Committee on Financial Services began airing some of the problems at hearings earlier this spring, bringing to light a situation that has simmered for months out of public view.
CFPB acknowledges its employees' complaints about a hostile working environment and says it is working with the National Treasury Employees Union — which represents CFPB employees — to settle worker protests and iron out new performance reviews, which are at the heart of many of the protests.
The agency's director, Richard Cordray, testified last month it has been challenging to create an agency from the ground up over the last three years, and working conditions for some have been "especially difficult."
"I am committed to ensuring that all Bureau employees are treated fairly and that they receive the respect and dignity they deserve," Mr. Cordray told the House Financial Services' Oversight and Investigations subcommittee on July 30.
Still, current CFBP employees say more work needs to be done and that some thought Mr. Cordray's testimony to be both impenitent and out of touch with what's actually happening at the bureau.
"Anybody who asks questions or doesn't just take orders gets discriminated against," Ali Naraghi, a bank examiner in the CFPB's southeast region, told The Washington Times in an interview. "What CFPB does internally to its staff is contrary to all of their objectives and the mission of the agency."
The Naraghi case
Mr. Naraghi, a naturalized citizen of Persian descent, alleges he was called a "f'ing foreigner" by his superiors because he vocalized discrepancies in the way the CFPB was conducting its bank examinations compared with the way it was done at the Federal Reserve, where Mr. Naraghi served for 14 years.
As a bank examiner, Mr. Naraghi holds a top government position, drawing in a salary of more than $100,000. He and other examiners essentially audit private banks for compliance with federal law.
At the Federal Reserve, Mr. Naraghi earned top performance marks and promotions — winning an excellence award for mortgage servicing. At the CFPB he's been graded at the lowest level in his performance reviews and has remained stagnant in his position since he started at the agency in 2011.
Newly in his position, Mr. Naraghi raised concerns to management that the CFPB wasn't using a risk model — a uniform institutionalized measuring stick — to evaluate banks' performance against one another. Because of this, he felt many examinations were skewed either in favor of what the institution dictated or to the examiner's own preconceived notions.
What the examinations weren't — he pointed out both to his manager and later to Congress in testimony — were objective.
"The only thing consistent within the CFPB is that it's inconsistent," said Mr. Naraghi, who still holds his position as he works out his complaint with the agency. "They want us to be like a private that salutes the major and does whatever they say — but everybody has something to add."
He said he wasn't trying to criticize the way CFPB was conducting its investigations, only voicing ways to make them better. His manager didn't view it that way.
After being subpoenaed by the congressional committee to testify in June, the agency tried to silence Mr. Naraghi by demanding lawmakers strike or bar his opening statement. The effort failed.
In his opening testimony, Mr. Naraghi said the very employee relations office that is supposed to help aggrieved employees was "broken and is more harmful than helpful to employees who suffer discrimination or retaliation."
Satisfaction survey higher
In response, CFPB spokeswoman Jen Howard said, on average, CFPB employees are more satisfied with their management compared with other government agencies.
According to a survey taken by CFPB and released to The Times, 72 percent of CFPB employees say they have a "high level of respect for my organization's senior leaders," compared to 54 percent governmentwide.
Seventy-five percent of CFPB employees either agree or strongly agree that "My supervisor/team leader is committed to a workforce representative of all segments of society," compared with 64 percent governmentwide, the agency said.
Despite his discrimination complaint, Mr. Naraghi doesn't question CFPB's mission — he very much stands up for the agency and the work it is doing. He sought employment at the CFPB after listening to Ms. Warren, the agency's first head and now a U.S. senator, describe the agency's goals of protecting consumers when she was pushing for it as a university professor.
"My in-laws in Mississippi had been taken advantage of by a fly-by-night mortgage company," said Mr. Naraghi. "I believe in our mission. That's why I came. We can do a lot of good, but breaking the law to enforce the law isn't cool in my opinion."
Part of the concern is CFPB's treatment of minorities, women and workers over the age of 40, Mr. Naraghi and other unnamed employees said. Also, the divide between management and the bargaining unit is vast, leaving those outside the higher ranks feeling helpless and without recourse.
Last year, within the CFPB, white employees were twice as likely to receive the highest rating at the bureau as compared to black or Hispanic employees, according to the CFPB's own performance management reviews, which were requested and made public by the union NTEU.
The odds were similarly stacked against workers over the age of 40, said Ben Konop, executive vice president at the NTEU in his May testimony to the committee.
"And ratings continued to be badly skewed in favor of management when compared with the ratings of the bargaining unit, who do the bulk of the work at the bureau," Mr. Konop said.
In 2013 CFPB employees filed 115 official grievances through the union — a particularly high amount for an agency with only 1,300 employees.
Complaints range from managers denying vacation requests in retaliation for comments they don't like to dismissing internal requests for promotions and hiring unqualified friends instead who then needed training and supervision from those in lesser positions, according to current employees.
Some of these complaints were addressed by management at CFPB's "All Hands" spring meeting — an agencywide conference that is used for training and team building.
In a presentation obtained from the conference by The Times, internal management laid bare the discrepancies in pay and performance between minorities and their white counterparts and committed to compensate employees for the difference.
"In the absence of a definitive root cause, we have decided to compensate employees to remediate statistical disparities caused by our prior performance management system and to bargain with NTEU to change it going forward," the presentation said.
The NTEU, for its part, will continue its effort to uncover and eliminate any unfair treatment at the bureau, NTEU National President Colleen M. Kelley said in a statement to The Times.
"Since NTEU began representing CFPB employees, we raised and pressed management on addressing employee concerns about disparate treatment and other workplace issues through collective bargaining and the grievance process," Ms. Kelley said.
Last month, improvements were made in the agency's telework policy, employee relocation policy and career ladder positions, Ms. Kelley said. The agency has also agreed to move away from its current performance system and form a task force that will focus on redesigning it, she said.
Agency employees say the pay increases are just restitution, but because almost everyone got bonuses and promotions, it just raised the playing field instead of equalizing it.
In addition, high-level employees — such as examiners with pay grades above a certain threshold — were exempt from the pay increases. In terms of the redesigned performance reviews, the true test will be in the coming months and years, employees said.
What angers them the most, however, is the fact that many managers who have a history of employee complaints and discrimination are still holding their jobs and, in some cases, intimidating others not to come forward, according to multiple employees, some of whom only spoke to The Times on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
Angela Martin, a senior CFPB enforcement attorney, accused a supervisor of retaliating against her after she filed a workers complaint with human resources.
Mrs. Martin alleges her supervisor threatened to bring counterclaims against her if she went forward with her complaint, then isolated her, diminished her job duties and held her accountable for work while preventing her from being involved in the preparation of that work.
Mrs. Martin — who solidly believes in the agency's mission — was a former private practice attorney and Army veteran who specialized in representing military families in consumer fraud cases.
"Employees have told me of alarming stories of maltreatment that resulted when they opposed the mismanagement and when they asserted their individual rights," Mrs. Martin, a mother of five, told Congress in April. "Certain managers have adopted an authoritarian, untouchable, unaccountable and unanswerable management style."
An external audit done at the request of the bureau agreed with Mrs. Martin's claims, and the CFPB settled with her this summer. She currently holds a new position at the agency and no longer interacts with her former supervisor.
However, CFPB launched a new investigation into Mrs. Martin's claims — hiring yet another independent third-party examiner last month — to re-examine her case. The new probe has had a chilling effect on those thinking about coming forward with their own grievances, employees said.
It was Mrs. Martin who first made the claims of the department's so-called "Plantation" where black employees were sent with no clear course of promotions or career track. Formally, the department is called the Office of Consumer Response Intake Section.
"There is an entire section in Consumer Response Intake that is 100 percent African-American, even the contractors, and it is called 'The Plantation,'" Mrs. Martin testified. "And people tell me it's very hard to leave The Plantation. You must be extremely savvy, or you must [have] somebody else [help you] to get out. And I will note, you cannot say education is a factor, because there are licensed attorneys and [people with] advanced master's degrees working there."
Jen Howard, a spokeswoman at CFPB, says Mrs. Martin's claims contained inaccurate information.
"There have been over 50 promotions within the Intake Section, and over 90 percent of the employees in the section who have received at least one promotion are minorities," said Ms. Howard in a written response.
"Three employees in the section have been promoted to supervisory roles outside of the section but within Consumer Response, all of whom are African-American. Four employees in the section have been promoted from 'Intake Specialist' to 'Intake Team Lead,' all of whom are African-American," she said.
Nonetheless, the accusations are so serious and widespread that the Government Accountability Office announced this month that it will begin an investigation into CFPB's organizational culture and management practices.
The investigation was requested by Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, North Carolina Republican and chairman of the House Financial Services Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee, which held the hearings; by Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, Texas Republican; and Consumer Subcommittee Chairwoman Shelley Moore Capito, West Virginia Republican.
Since hearings began in April, Mr. McHenry said his office has heard from more than 32 employees complaining about maltreatment at the agency.
"The treatment of women and minorities at the CFPB is deplorable," Mr. McHenry said in a statement to The Times. "Unfortunately, due to the unique structure of the bureau — leaving it free from both congressional and executive branch oversight — there is little that can be done to stop these rogue agency leaders.
"While my subcommittee will continue its oversight efforts, ultimately it is Director Cordray's responsibility to realize the depth of these issues and finally address the suffering of so many CFPB employees," he said.
For now, Mr. Naraghi, and the many more like him who came forward anonymously, are both negotiating their cases with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and trying to navigate the tricky management system to steer clear of retaliation.
Some employees interviewed by The Times have since left the agency, giving up hope of any major institutional change in the near future.
CFPB management "tried to sully my record — they wanted me to sign a settlement with them and clear them of any wrongdoing. I'm not going to do that," said Mr. Naraghi, who is waiting on a hearing date for his grievance case. "What's right is right. I don't want to bring down the CFPB, but I do have a serious problem with its management."
“President Obama was right in 2008 when he called the Export-Import Bank ‘little more than a fund for corporate welfare’ and wrong today when he cheerleads for its renewal.
“We need to level the playing field so American manufacturers and small businesses can compete. But Ex-Im doesn’t level the playing field; Ex-Im rigs it in favor of few powerful Fortune 500 corporations that are the overwhelming beneficiaries of Ex-Im. Washington shouldn’t pick winners and losers, and hardworking American taxpayers – who are already under tremendous stress – shouldn’t be forced to pay for foreign corporate welfare that advantages a handful of powerful, politically-connected corporations.
“Because over 98 percent of all U.S. exports are funded without Ex-Im, no one can make a credible case that Ex-Im’s continuation is critical to our economy. What would really help American manufacturers and small businesses compete on a level playing field are pro-growth tax, energy, regulatory and liability policies that the House has already passed but are being blocked by Democrats in the Senate. These policies are also embodied in legislation introduced by my colleague Congressman Mick Mulvaney. I’ve co-sponsored his bill, the American Renaissance in Manufacturing Act (the ARM Act) to begin addressing the competitive disadvantages our American manufacturers face. The pro-growth policies in the ARM Act, not the crony-connected political privileges of Ex-Im, will really level the playing field and help America compete.
“I urge President Obama to join us in helping to make American exporters more competitive through greater opportunity, not more foreign corporate welfare.”
August 21, 2014
Should the government help pay for Americans to rebuild after big terrorist attacks? If so, how much? Congress is in the process of answering these questions.
Since 2002, the federal government has provided a financial backstop for private terrorism insurance policies, promising public money to offset losses after large, expensive attacks. After $100 million in losses, the federal cost-sharing program is designed to kick in. Thankfully, the backstop hasn’t been necessary so far. But the policy is about to expire, and lawmakers must decide what to do with it before the end of the year.
The Senate passed a bill last month that would extend the current system for seven years with a few tweaks but no major changes. The vote in that chamber was 93 to 4. In the House, however, the debate is roiling, with Republicans deeply split about what to do. Some don’t want to see federal money put on the line to help developers in major terrorism targets — read, cities — obtain affordable insurance for big building projects, which has been a primary effect of the policy to date. Others — particularly those who represent districts that contain possible terrorist targets — would take the Senate’s status quo approach. The man at the center of this fight, Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.), has proposed a bill that would keep the system in place for five years but, among other things, raise the point at which the federal government would step in to $500 million in losses.
It certainly makes sense for the government to provide some guarantee of help following a catastrophic attack. Congress would no doubt approve assistance after a big terrorist strike, anyway. It’s better to have a system with certain boundaries and rules in place before that happens. This makes even more sense when one considers that the government has a lot of control over — and responsibility for — protecting the homeland from catastrophic attacks. It has more influence in that realm of national tragedy than it has on the timing, location or severity of other disasters that elicit federal funds — hurricanes, tornadoes, floods or earthquakes, say.
But there is a legitimate debate to be had about what qualifies as a disaster big enough that the whole nation should bear some or most of the private rebuilding costs. It is neither unreasonable nor heartless for the House to wonder whether the Senate is promising too much assistance, when the private insurance market may be able to handle losses beyond its $100 million threshold on its own. Raising the bar might have negative consequences for the cost of constructing and operating large buildings in various places around the country, insurance on which would probably become more expensive or difficult to obtain. But it is only fair to ask those who use and benefit from those facilities to help pay something closer to their true cost.
The House should renew the policy, but it is right to explore more ambitious changes than those the Senate approved.
And according to The Hill, “Officials with the Export-Import Bank have exceeded their travel budget over the last three years by $3 million.” (“Ex-Im Busts Travel Budget by $3M” the headline reads). “Much of the recent travel appears designed to build public support for the bank,” The Hill reports.
“Being the chief export subsidizer in the country carries lots of responsibilities including, apparently, barnstorming the country to try and rally the businesses you subsidize to push lawmakers to keep the subsidies flowing. This ain't cheap,” notes the Washington Examiner.
e•gre•gious -- outstandingly bad; shocking.
“While You’re Away on Vacation…”
Before President Obama leaves tomorrow for his Martha’s Vineyard vacation, we have a suggested day-trip he could make when he gets bored after his umpteenth round of golf and the inevitable campaign fundraiser: he could visit the millions of taxpayer dollars “invested” by the Export-Import Bank into Evergreen Solar between 2009-2010.
It’s just a 3-hour drive from Martha’s Vineyard (even quicker with Air Force One!).
Oh, wait. Nope. Never mind. He CAN’T visit Evergreen Solar.
Note to White House advance staff: Please don’t confuse Evergreen Solar with Solyndra, another failed “green energy” company that received Ex-Im’s corporate welfare. That’s in one of the other 57 states.
“Today, President Obama was cheerleading for the Export-Import Bank, which he once cheered against as a candidate when he called the Bank ‘little more than a fund for corporate welfare.’ Given that we learned this week that the Export-Import Bank is connected to 40 different ongoing fraud investigations, it’s a very odd time for the president to be cheering for them.
“Because over 98 percent of all U.S. exports are funded without the Export-Import Bank, no one can make a credible case that its reauthorization is critical to the economy. What would really rejuvenate the economy is a repeal of Obamanomics. Whether it is the president’s health care law, Dodd-Frank, or the wasteful ‘stimulus’ package, the fact is our nation remains in the longest, slowest, weakest, non-recovery recovery in our history because of the president’s failed economic policies.
“American manufacturers compete in the global marketplace at a competitive disadvantage right now largely due to our high corporate tax rate, legal liability costs, and burdensome regulations. If President Obama was really interested in leveling the playing field for American manufacturers, he would work with Republicans in Congress on pro-growth tax, energy, regulatory, and liability policies -- not some international arms race to the bottom funded with taxpayer subsidies for his friends at Fortune 500 companies. Congressman Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) recently introduced H.R. 5360, the American Renaissance in Manufacturing Act (ARM Act), which I have co-sponsored, to begin to address the competitive disadvantages our American manufacturers face. The pro-growth policies in the ARM Act, not the crony-connected Export-Import Bank, are a real solution to the problem.
“I urge the president to join us in helping to make our exporters more competitive through greater opportunity, not greater taxpayer subsidies or guarantees.”
Washington Examiner | CFPB opens new investigation in bid to exonerate bureau managers on discrimination
Times Record News | Neugebauer wants to get government out of terror insurance
Wall Street Journal | House Panel Passes Bill to Ease Capital Requirements on MSRs
Real Clear Markets | Dodd-Frank's Birthday Marred By Its Many Inadequacies
American Banker | House Panel Passes Bill to Ease Capital Requirements on MSRs
Wall Street Journal | Regional Banks Push Congress to Amend 'Systemically Important' Tag
Washington Examiner | GAO opens new probe of CFPB 'toxic workplace' charges
Wall Street Journal | Republicans Demand Consumer Regulator’s Documents in Wake of Supreme Court Case
Washington Times | ‘Operation Choke Point’: A noose for business
Bloomberg | Ex-Im Bank Watchdog Pursuing 40 Fraud Cases: Lawmaker
e·gre·gious -- outstandingly bad; shocking.
“A Wealth of Political Connections” Connects Troubled Foreign Company to U.S. Taxpayers
What do U.S. taxpayers, former Vice President Al Gore and former Gov. Bill Richardson have in common?
We’ll let the Washington Free Beacon take it from here in its report: “Former Employees Allege Widespread Illegality at Taxpayer-Backed Solar Company”.
e·gre·gious -- outstandingly bad; shocking.
Did an Ex-Im Project Lead to 27 Deaths?
The Export-Import Bank’s approval of $3 billion in financing for a liquefied natural gas project in Papua New Guinea reportedly led to the deaths of 27 villagers who were killed on January 24, 2012 in a massive landslide.
“With millions of our fellow Americans unemployed and underemployed, job number one continues to be jobs creation and economic growth. Our committee has approved dozens of bipartisan bills- several of which are piled up on Harry Reid’s desk- to help alleviate the red tape burden that Washington piles on job creators so all Americans can enjoy a stronger, healthier economy,” said Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX).
The following is a summary of the bills the committee passed:
H.R. 5018, the Federal Reserve Accountability and Transparency Act, sponsored by Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ) and Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI). H.R. 5018 was approved 32-26.
H.R. 5018 is the first piece of legislation developed as part of the Committee’s Federal Reserve Centennial Oversight Project. It requires the Federal Reserve to adopt a more predictable rules-based policy -- of the Fed’s own choosing -- that leads to a healthy and stronger economy. It also requires the Fed to share with the public whatever rules-based approach it decides to follow. The bill also requires the Federal Reserve to conduct a cost-benefit analysis when adopting new regulations in order to ensure the benefits of proposed regulations outweigh the cost to the economy.
H.R. 3240, the Regulation D Study Act, introduced by Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC). H.R. 3240 was approved by voice vote.
H.R. 3240 requires the Government Accountability Office, in consultation with credit unions and community banks, to conduct a study examining Federal Reserve Regulation D minimum reserve requirements. Regulation D forces financial institutions to focus on compliance rather than spending time with consumers to meet their financial needs.
H.R. 3913, a bill to amend the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956 to require agencies to take into account the promotion of efficiency, competition, and capital formation before issuing or modifying certain regulations, sponsored by Rep. Sean Dufy (R-WI). H.R. 3913 was approved 32-22.
H.R. 3913 is based on the common-sense proposition that before any rule can be proposed, a federal agency must determine if the rule promotes efficiency, competition, and capital formation. Instead of forcing financial institutions to spend precious time and money complying with unnecessary bureaucratic red tape, Congress can allow them to focus on encouraging economic growth by providing consumers with financial products and services.
H.R. 4042, the Community Bank Mortgage Servicing Asset Capital Requirements Study Act of 2014, sponsored by Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO). H.R. 4042, as amended, was approved 44-9.
H.R. 4202 requires the Federal Reserve, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to conduct a study to determine the appropriate capital requirements for mortgage servicing assets for any banking institution other than an institution identified by the Financial Stability Board as a global systemically important bank. H.R. 4042, as amended, also prohibits the implementation of Basel III capital requirements related to mortgage servicing assets for non-systemic banking institutions from taking effect until three months after a report on the study mandated by the bill is transmitted to Congress.
H.R. 5148, the Access to Affordable Mortgages Act of 2014, sponsored by Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO). H.R. 5148 was approved 31-23.
H.R. 5148 would amend federal law to exempt creditors offering mortgages of $250,000 or below from onerous property appraisal requirements stemming from the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (P.L. 11-203).
H.R. 4329, the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Reauthorization Act (NAHASDA) of 2014, sponsored by Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM). H.R. 4329 was approved 47-11.
H.R. 4329 extends the authorization for NAHASDA for five additional years with the following reforms:
2129 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515