GOP senator calls for probe into 'flawed' vetting process for CFPB official

GOP senator calls for probe into 'flawed' vetting process for CFPB official
© Greg Nash

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senators introduce Trump's plan to claw back billion in spending House GOP sets three FBI interviews in Clinton probe Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — House passes 'right to try' drug bill | Trump moves to restrict abortion referrals MORE (R-Wis.) on Thursday called on a federal watchdog to review the "flawed" process in which Leandra English jumped from a position as political appointee to serving as a senior career civil servant at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Johnson, the head of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, sent a letter to the head of the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), Henry Kerner, raising concerns about the conversion process in the final days of the Obama administration.

"Based on the information that [the Office of Personnel Management] provided to the Committee, it may be appropriate for the Office of Special Counsel to review whether the conversion of Ms. English from a political appointment at OPM to a career position within CFPB adhered to the merit system principles," Johnson wrote.

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Johnson's letter comes after a showdown in November over dueling appointments between the White House and the outgoing CFPB head over who would lead the agency.

Exiting CFPB Director Richard CordrayRichard Adams CordrayTrump signs repeal of auto-loan policy that targeted racial bias Juan Williams: Trump gives life to the left Time is running out for Congress to remove payday loan red tape MORE, an Obama-era appointee, promoted English, his chief of staff, to deputy director — leaving her in a position to lead the agency after he departed.

President Trump, meanwhile, appointed Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyGOP senators introduce Trump's plan to claw back billion in spending Companies face many dark perils when it comes to political money The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — The art of walking away from the deal MORE — his White House budget chief – to lead the CFPB, sparking a battle over who would lead the watchdog agency until the Senate confirms a permanent replacement for Cordray.

While a provision of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act says the deputy director of the CFPB will be named interim leader of the agency in the event the director steps down, the White House and the Justice Department argued separately that it is within Trump's authority to name an acting director to the CFPB.  

Johnson sought to investigate the process in which English jumped into a position that set her up to lead the agency, arguing that her conversion may be an example of burrowing, or "a practice in which a non-career, political appointee converts to a career position outside of competitive hiring processes."

"Burrowing threatens to undermine the merit-based principles that serve as the foundation of the civil service because it allows political staff to be favored over potentially more qualified candidates. The Office of Special Counsel is charged with investigating hiring decisions based on political affiliation, which is a violation of civil service laws," Johnson said.

"According to information provided by OPM, it appears that OPM hastily approved Ms. English’s conversion in the waning days of the Obama Administration based on information that included errors, potential conflicts of interest, and insufficient independent verification," he wrote.

Johnson said he received information on English's conversion from OPM Acting Director Kathleen McGettigan, who had multiple concerns despite McGettigan's assurance that her appointment was “free from political influence."

He argued that information she provided in response to a previous letter "demonstrates a flawed vetting process in several respects," including selecting English for the CFPB position "outside of the announced timeline," a "hastily vetted and approved conversion" and what he called inaccuracies left unamended in documentation for the role, among other issues.

The contest over who would lead the bureau sprung into a legal battle after English sued Mulvaney, claiming the Dodd-Frank Act made her the rightful acting director.