- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2014

Already under fire for accusations of retaliation and discrimination, the Consumer Financial Protection Board now faces a congressional inquiry into whether officials there violated the law that bars partisan activity in the federal workplace.

The House Committee on Financial Services wants the financial watchdog agency to scour the email accounts of three officials for a dozen terms, including “Hatch,” “Democrat,” “Republican,” “conservative” and “party,” according to correspondence obtained by The Washington Times.

The request by Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, North Carolina Republican and chairman of the House Financial Service’s investigative subcommittee, seeks email records since January 2012 for Scott Pluta, assistant director for CFPB’s consumer response office and two other agency officials, Dane D’Allesandro and Rachael Goldfarb. The April 17 letter gave the board until Thursday to comply.

The letter doesn’t make clear why the committee is seeking records from the three individuals. An agency spokesman confirmed that the board received the request.

“We have received the letter and have been in communication with the Committee about providing responsive documents,” Sam Gilford wrote in an email.

The Hatch Act of 1939 limits certain political activities of most executive branch employees.

“For example, the law prohibits employees from engaging in political activity while on duty or in the Federal workplace. It also prohibits them from soliciting or receiving political contributions,” according to the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.

The letter by Mr. McHenry signals the committee’s broadening investigation into the consumer board’s workplace complaints.

A senior enforcement attorney at the board, Angela Martin, testified to the committee this month that she has faced retaliation after filing discrimination complaints but said she is not alone.

Misty Rauccia, an investigator retained by the board to look into Ms. Martin’s complaint, testified about broader problems in a “toxic workplace.”

Ms. Martin testified that the board’s director, Richard Cordray, told her to have her attorneys “back down” after she complained about workplace hostility.

In a statement after the hearing, Mr. Cordray said he would welcome the opportunity to appear before Congress.

“I take seriously the concerns raised at today’s hearing and deeply apologize to any member of the CFPB staff who feels that they have not been heard or treated fairly,” he said.

Hatch Act researcher Scott Coffina, associate White House counsel under President George W. Bush, said it’s hard to speculate exactly what the committee is seeking, but the request suggests lawmakers likely received a detailed complaint.

“The specificity of the individuals and the search terms suggests the committee believes the search will yield evidence,” he said.

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