The $447 Million Bill Taxpayers Aren’t Allowed to Ask About
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For an organization founded on increasing transparency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is shrouded in mystery—from simple definitions to its unchecked (and substantial) budget.
This morning, testifying before the House Financial Services Committee, Director Richard Cordray reminded us how little we know about how the CFPB spends its money. And while the CFPB’s budget secrecy is highly unusual and frustrating, it is also perfectly legal because the bureau was designed to be unaccountable to Congress.
Since the launch of the CFPB, the Chamber has raised strong concerns about the bureau’s structure as an independent agency. Consider the facts:
- Headed by a single presidential appointee who can only be removed for cause
- Recess appointment of the Director eliminated that single check Congress retained over the bureau
- Funded by unquestioned transfers from the Fed, outside of the Congressional budget
What you’re left with is a government entity that operates outside the lines of traditional oversight.
The bureau and some in Congress point to the CFPB staff’s multiple appearances before Congressional committees as evidence that the organization is accountable to Congress. Sure, hearings are a useful way to ask questions publicly, but without any oversight of bureau staffing or budget, members are powerless to compel substantive answers.
Case in point, Congressman Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, detailed in The Wall Street Journal the CFPB’s resistance to Congressional inquiries about its spending habits.
Chairman Neugebauer and other committee members have been in a back and forth all year with the bureau asking for more detail about the CFPB’s 2012 and 2013 budgets. Time and time again, the CFPB cordially responded to these requests for basic information about its spending plans…and then failed to actually send any information at all. It’s safe to say that no other agency could get away with this kind of behavior without some sort of consequence.
It’s no wonder that the CFPB’s $447 million budget request took only 25 pages. When over $124 million goes to undefined “other services,” the bureau can afford to be succinct.
Maybe the CFPB really needs $447 million in 2013 to protect consumers, but we expect agencies to justify their budgets in detail. We also expect Congress to weigh each agency’s needs individually, and against each other, to ensure responsible use of taxpayer dollars. The CFPB was purposely placed outside this process, and seems unwilling to voluntarily subject itself to basic congressional oversight of its spending.
For a bureau committed to making consumer financial products more transparent, it has a habit of resisting efforts to be more transparent to Congress and the American people.
It’s time for an overhaul of the CFPB to ensure it is subject to some basic checks and balances on its authority and its spending.
After all, consumers are taxpayers too.