Consumer agency's spending under fire

August 21, 2012: 4:28 PM ET
cfpb richard cordray
Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is being paid a salary of $180,000 this year, according to documents obtained by Judicial Watch under a FOIA request.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

The agency responsible for watching over your money is now getting its own finances examined.

Judicial Watch, a conservative foundation aimed at fighting government corruption, obtained financial records from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and says that the government agency has been spending a surprising amount of money on sign language translation services, basic banking classes for its lawyers and staff salaries. The CFPB said that none of this money is coming out of taxpayers pockets, however, since the agency is funded by the Federal Reserve.

Obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, one document shows that the consumer bureau entered into a contract that allows it to spend about $465,000 this year for sign language translation services.

The CFPB said the sign language services allow the agency to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, assist its deaf employees and provide sign language translation for people who need it at internal and external meetings, presentations and other work-related activities. The agency said it has only used $54,000 of the awarded amount to date and that the interpreting company will return any unused funds to the consumer bureau at the end of the year.

The agency spent another $4,500 this summer to enroll six employees in a Banking Law Fundamentals class at George Washington University, Judicial Watch found. The two-and-a-half day course was "a comprehensive introduction to banking law regulation for attorneys, consultants, and bank professionals" and aimed to "familiarize participants with the basics of banking law," according to a flier circulated via e-mail among CFPB employees, which was also obtained through Judicial Watch's FOIA requests.

Related: CFPB to supervise credit reporting agencies

The consumer bureau said the agency's enforcement attorneys are required to continue their legal education to remain licensed to practice law, and this class was a way for them to complete some of the required credits. "Attendance of seminars like this one is part of our continued efforts to increase the knowledge and capabilities of our team," a CFPB spokesperson said. "It is our understanding that this course is widely attended by attorneys from prudential regulators."

But Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton said the consumer bureau's spending appears to be "wasteful" and that sending its top attorneys to a class on the basics of banking implies that the agency isn't hiring people with the proper experience. He pointed to an email Judicial Watch obtained in which one CFPB enforcement attorney who wished to attend the class referred to herself as a "banking world novice."

What is the CFPB?

Other financial records Judicial Watch acquired last year show that many consumer bureau employees are being paid big bucks, including 12 high-level hires who were paid more than $225,000 each in 2011.

"I don't see how conservatives or liberals could like that key regulators are having to take basic banking classes at an agency like this," said Fitton. "Given the salaries you would think they could work from day one [without taking banking classes], but they can't."

The consumer bureau, which has about 850 employees and an annual budget of $329 million for 2012, said it is required under the Dodd-Frank Act to design its pay and benefits to be comparable to the Federal Reserve Board and other federal financial regulators.

And those six-figure salaries aren't that uncommon among government agencies. Judicial Watch found that the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency was paying 85 workers at least $225,000 a year in 2011 and the Securities and Exchange Commission was paying 103 workers more than $225,000, based on other documents it requested last year.

Related: Consumer bureau proposes rules for risky, high-cost mortgages

The CFPB's director, Richard Cordray, is making about $180,000 this year, according to documents obtained by Judicial Watch. Cordray's salary is set by Dodd-Frank and is actually now significantly lower than the nearly $226,000 he was previously paid as assistant director of enforcement at the agency. The agency's deputy director, Raj Date, however, is earning even more than his boss -- with a $243,000 salary this year.

Currently, the lowest salary range for job openings on the agency's website is $85,000 to $149,000 for some analyst positions. IT specialists can make between $103,000 and $187,000 per year, while a job description for a deputy associate director comes with a salary band of $185,000 to $247,500.

"The Bureau's resources are used to support our mission to make markets work for consumers," a CFPB spokesperson said. "We follow all appropriate procedures and laws related to hiring and procurement to ensure funds are spent in a responsible and prudent manner."

Clarification: While Judicial Watch criticized the CFPB for using taxpayer dollars on these expenses, the CFPB says it does not use taxpayer money since it is funded by the Federal Reserve.

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