Lawmakers spar over planned hearing on CFPB discrimination

House Democrats are pushing to scrap a hearing digging into controversy at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), arguing it has become a political ploy.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, sent a letter to Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) Friday, calling on him to cancel a Wednesday hearing on trouble at the consumer watchdog. Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), the top Democrat on the subcommittee holding the hearing, also signed on to the letter.

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The lawmakers argued that while they were originally told the hearing would explore reported discriminatory claims at the agency and other personnel matters, it now appears the hearing will be devoted solely to the grievances of a single CFPB employee.

The Democrats contended that the hearing has morphed into a political show meant to attack the agency, which has long been subject to GOP critiques.

“It now appears to have taken on a more political motivation, to further disparage the CFPB, than out of genuine concern for the professional advancement of women and minorities,” they wrote.

However, Republicans are showing no interest in halting the hearing. In a response, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), who chairs the oversight subcommittee holding the event, accused the Democrats of wanting to cover up problems at the bureau.

“This attempt to silence and intimidate whistleblowers is disappointing,” he said in a statement. “It’s extremely disturbing that Democrats and the CFPB want to sweep this under the rug.”

Two CFPB employees, as well as the president of the National Treasury Employees Union, have been invited to testify at the hearing but are refusing to do so. The CFPB has said the officials, who handle employment matters there, are not testifying as the bureau works through its own internal grievance process, adding public testimony would violate employee rights to privacy.

A CFPB attorney who claims she has been subject to discriminatory practices at the agency will testify, as will an independent investigator hired by the CFPB to investigate those claims.

In a rebuttal to Waters, McHenry said the hearing will still be devoted to broader issues at the agency, even if CFPB and union officials will not attend to answer questions. If she thinks the hearing has become too narrowly focused, McHenry said she should focus her ire at the bureau for refusing to make officials available.

“To allow the CFPB’s refusal to cooperate to result in cancellation of the scheduled hearing would be to accede to a gross intrusion upon the subcommittee’s prerogatives. To overlook serious allegations of discrimination at a government agency within our committee’s jurisdiction would be a dereliction of our Constitutional duty,” he wrote. “For these reasons, the subcommittee hearing will proceed as planned.”

The CFPB has been subject to fresh scrutiny after a report in the American Banker found that agency managers showed a pattern of ranking white employees better than minority employees in performance reviews.

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