Coburn Grills Cordray Over 'Opulent' HQ
Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) grilled CFPB Director Richard Cordray Tuesday for further details on the bureau’s $185 million headquarters renovation project.
Coburn, pictured at left, asked Cordray during a Senate Banking Committee hearing on the CFPB’s semiannual congressional report for the square footage of the CFPB’s leased headquarters, which is being renovated at an approximate cost of $185 million – up from an earlier $95 million estimate.
“I can’t give you exactly what the square footage is but what I know is that the building is problematic. We’re actually having to move out of it so it can be renovated,” Cordray told Coburn.
“I understand that but you don’t know how many square feet? So you don’t know whether $185 million is a good value for the American taxpayers or not based on a per square foot calculation of renovation costs?” Coburn asked.
“I believe it is an appropriate value. It is something that was taken account of in the lease that we negotiated with the OCC so that our lease payments were less over the 30 years to take account of the fact that we not the landlord would be making the improvements on the building. It is a building that would be a white elephant if this work is not done and it is a government asset owned by the Treasury and the OCC,” Cordray responded.
“The point is, we’re $17 trillion it debt,” Coburn shot back. “The fact is it is going to be opulent.”
Cordray, pictured at left, disagreed with Coburn, who was referring to architecture documents read to the committee by Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.). The documents describe plans for a four-story interior glass staircase and a granite fountain pool at the CFPB headquarters.
“We’re running a $600 billion a year deficit. The very thing that you’re trying to help people with in terms of fairness, it terms of the consumer being treated fairly, we’re going to take back from them in terms of excess costs because we don’t run things on a tight ship,” Coburn told Cordray.
Coburn reviewed the specific costs of the renovation project at the hearing.
“The structural renovation’s $139 million. The temporary lease is $22 million. The securities, utilities and other expense at the temporary space for three years is $13.6 million. The cost of architectural, engineering and design contracts was $9.2 million – that does not include the IT, the shuttle service that is going to run back and forth … so there’s a lot of costs in this,” Coburn told Cordray.
“I’m not saying what you did is wrong. I’m just saying we’re buying top dollar design and construction at a time that we don’t have the money to pay for that. Now, as [Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.)] pointed out, you have an unlimited budget. We don’t get a chance at oversight,” he added.
Coburn asked Cordray if anyone working on the project has experience in the private sector outside of Washington in rehabbing buildings and if the renovation could be done for less money.
“I’m responsible to you on that and this is meaningful oversight that you have with me,” Cordray responded.
“We also do not have an unlimited budget. We have a budget cap each year and our spending has to come out of that. We have no capital budget,” Cordray added, saying he wants to spend as little as possible on the building.
Coburn pressed Cordray to name the expert on his staff with private sector experience who is making the decisions about the CFPB building project.
Cordray said he is working with people in the agency and at the General Services Administration.
“I’d be happy to have you or your staff meet with our facilities group and others and also meet with the folks from GSA that are working with us on this,” he said.