Mulvaney's CFPB Mulls Moving Staff to Basement. Or Dallas

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(Bloomberg) -- Mick Mulvaney says he’s legally barred from shutting down the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a regulator he once called a “sick” joke.

But the agency’s acting director could move dozens of employees to the basement of its Washington headquarters. And he might try to relocate other staff members to Dallas.

Such options are being proposed by his top aides as Mulvaney seeks to cut spending at the Republican-loathed watchdog by tens of millions of dollars, according to an internal cost-savings analysis that was obtained by Bloomberg News. Another budget-trimming idea: making employees share desks.

“All options are on the table as we work to make the bureau more efficient and effective," said John Czwartacki, the CFPB’s chief communications officer. He said he wasn’t certain whether Mulvaney had reviewed the recommendations and that no final decisions have been made.

All About the CFPB, Washington’s New Flashpoint: QuickTake Q&A

When Democratic lawmakers created the CFPB through the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, they kept the agency out of the federal appropriations process to prevent a future GOP-controlled Congress from starving it of cash. Instead, the regulator gets its funding from the Federal Reserve, which provided $602 million for the fiscal year that ended in September.

Reining in the CFPB, which is meant to protect consumers from predatory lending, is central to President Donald Trump’s deregulatory agenda. And Mulvaney, a former Republican congressman who also serves as Trump’s budget director, has done what he can to crack down on CFPB spending since taking over in November.

For instance, he requested no money from the Fed in January for the second quarter of this fiscal year, stating that costs could be covered by $177.1 million in reserve funds left by his predecessor, Democrat Richard Cordray.

He’s also brought on senior aides who share his views about how the agency should be run. Key political hires include chief of staff Kirsten Sutton and senior adviser Brian Johnson. Both previously worked for House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, a Texas Republican who has sponsored legislation that would strip the CFPB of much of its powers.

The analysis put together by Mulvaney’s advisers lays out multiple ways to trim the budget over the next two years. Requiring CFPB staff “without a business need to work in an office” to stay home could save as much as $18.3 million, while shared desks might reduce expenditures by another $18.3 million.

Basement Workers

Adding 70 work spaces in the basement of the CFPB’s main Washington building may save $16.6 million, and relocating staff to Dallas would decrease spending by $2.4 million. Other ideas in the one-page document include moving workers to offices in Washington’s Virginia or Maryland suburbs, though doing so is actually estimated to increase costs.

Mulvaney’s advisers indicate that some of their proposed changes, like changing seating arrangements at CFPB headquarters, may not comply with agreements the agency has with the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents hundreds of its employees.

“NTEU stands ready to review any workplace changes from CFPB leadership to make sure they don’t adversely affect the front-line employees who have dedicated their careers to protecting consumers,” Tony Reardon, the union’s national president, said in an emailed statement. “CFPB’s front-line employees need and deserve adequate resources and support as they work every day to make sure financial consumers are treated fairly.”

Political fights tied to the CFPB’s newly renovated headquarters, located around the corner from the White House, have been a microcosm of bigger partisan battles other the agency, with Republicans calling the building a stark example of government waste. When Cordray was director, GOP lawmakers often attacked him over features like a waterfall made of “naturally split granite.”

After Trump won the presidential election, but before he took office, his team discussed getting rid of the headquarters entirely, people familiar with the matter have said. However, the CFPB leases it from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the contract isn’t up until 2023.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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