Republicans open probe into $215M renovation

Republicans are demanding the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau (CFPB) turn over dozens of emails about a controversial multi-million dollar renovation of the agency's headquarters.

Following a watchdog report from earlier this month that found the cost of the CFPB's renovations has escalated to more than $215 million, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling has requested "full, unredacted" copies of 63 emails in which CFPB employees discussed the renovations. 

Hensarling also wants to know which CFPB official approved the renovations.

"The Financial Services Committee continues to investigate the CFPB's space planning activities and headquarters renovation plans," Hensarling wrote in a letter to CFPB Director Richard Cordray.

The CFPB has until July 31 to comply with the request, but the agency maintains that the renovations were necessary.

 “The CFPB’s headquarters is a government asset that is past its prime and needs to be brought up to current standards," CFPB spokeswoman Jen Howard said in a statement to The Hill. 

"The CFPB has been open and transparent about our cost estimates throughout the process, as outlined by the IG report," she added.

Republicans have often been at odds with the CFPB, which was created in 2010 in response to the collapse of the financial markets on Wall Street.

They are particularly aggravated about the millions of dollars the CFPB is spending to renovate a headquarters building it does not even own. The CFPB rents the building from another branch of the government.

When it was first announced four years ago, the renovation project had a $55 million pricetag. By 2012, the CFPB revised the projected cost to $95 million and again last year raised the estimate to $150.8 million.

Earlier this month, Federal Reserve inspector general Mark Bialek reported that the pricetage has jumped again to $215.8 million.

Bialek wrote that a "sound business case" cannot be made for the renovations, which include a four-story glass staircase, two-story waterfall and a sunken garden.

The CFPB's renovations have angered House Republicans who say the agency is wasting taxpayers' money.

Cordray defended the renovations before Congress in January. He said the agency had selected a "tough building" but denied charges that the renovations were opulent and wasteful. 

"The notion that we would try to build some kind of palace that we don't own or control makes no sense to me," he told lawmakers.

While Howard pointed out that the CFPB is not the only government agency seeking renovations. 

"Government buildings are frequently renovated," she said, pointing out that the General Services Administration has budgeted $2.1 billion for government-wide renovations in 2014.

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