- The Washington Times - Monday, November 28, 2011

House Republicans concerned about a lack of accountability at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have requested information from the independent agency about its spending.

In a letter obtained by The Washington Times, the House Financial Services Committee is demanding details about why the CFPB requested $28 million more from the Federal Reserve than the budgeted $142 million.

“What do they plan to use the money for?” asked Jeff Emerson, deputy chief of staff for the committee. “That’s a pretty significant increase.”

This month, the CFPB passed an audit of its financial statements from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The GAO said the financial statements were “fairly presented” and that the agency had “effective internal control over financial reporting.”

“Our goal is to be open and transparent about the way we spend our funds,” CFPB spokesperson Jen Howard said in a statement to The Times, responding to the committee’s letter.

This is the latest Republican attack on the CFPB.

The financial services committee is “filling in” for the House and Senate appropriations committees. Those committees usually review agency budgets, but are prohibited by the Dodd-Frank Act from asking such questions of the CFPB.

“It doesn’t say we can’t ask,” Mr. Emerson said. “We believe that every government agency, including the CFPB, deserves strong government oversight. Since appropriations committees in this instance are prohibited from exercising this type of oversight, our committee will.”

The House Appropriations Committee already expressed discontent with the CFPB.

“The Committee cannot discern what the (CFPB) plans to do, how it will do it, or how much it will cost,” members wrote in a report. “The Committee is disappointed that an agency dedicated to transparency and accountability was not more forthcoming about how it plans to spend taxpayer money.”

The financial services committee points out that the CFPB is an agency with a unique management structure. While it’s not the only agency that receives money from a source other than Congress, it is controlled by one director rather than a board.

“So that gives this one director an enormous amount of power,” Mr. Emerson said. “The agency doesn’t have enough accountability.”

Mr. Emerson pointed to the “Consumer Financial Protection Safety and Soundness Improvement Act,” which passed the House earlier this year and has been sitting in the Senate. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Sean P. Duffy, Wisconsin Republican, would change the CFPB’s management structure to a board, rather than one director.

“I strongly support taking additional steps to ensure accountability for consumers and taxpayers,” Mr. Duffy said. “American taxpayers deserve to know exactly where their money is being spent.”

The committee, which sent the letter last week, is requesting a response by Dec. 16.

Business groups are applauding the committee for stepping up.

“This kind of transparency is important,” said Jess Sharp, executive director of the Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness, a division of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “The appropriators are kind of helpless. So we’re glad the Financial Services committee is asking for this information.

“It’s too bad they have to chase them a little bit for it.”

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