A week after appearing before the Senate Banking Committee, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Richard Cordray traveled back up the hill again to review the bureau's semi-annual report and take questions from the House Financial Services Committee.
At the hearing, committee members asked Cordray to address a number of issues surrounding the embattled agency, including accountability concerns and allegations of discrimination.
Right from the start, the director went on the defensive with committee chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), who opened the hearing with remarks on what he called "disturbing developments" within the bureau.
"Properly designed, the CFPB is capable of great good on behalf of consumers," Hensarling said. "It is also capable of great harm.”
Hensarling then questioned Cordray about the cost of renovating its headquarters, which is now at an estimated $185 million. The new building plans include a four-story glass staircase, granite fountains, sunken gardens, and more.
While critics, including Senate Banking Committee member Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) have described the design plans as "opulent," Cordray dismissed the language used as overblown, insisting that “every halfway functioning shopping mall in America” has the same features.
After some back and forth—in which Hensarling asserted again that CFPB is "essentially unaccountable to the people"—Cordray heatedly told the congressman to check out the building for himself: "Come see the building. It's a dump. You want to come see it?"
Also of interest to the group of lawmakers was CFPB's plan to establish a National Mortgage Database in partnership with the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). The bureau's efforts to gather information to build that database prompted comparisons to the National Security Agency.
Cordray rebuffed, clarifying that the agency's information comes as an "off-the-shelf" product purchased from credit reporting agencies and scrubbed of certain information, including Social Security numbers, addresses, and any other identifying pieces.
That answer didn't satisfy Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Alabama).
"You may intend to scrub this information, but someone else, once they see it, may not," the congressman said. "The American people are rightly concerned about the protection of their personally identifiable information."
"I'm part of the American people," Cordray countered. "I'm very concerned about it too."
Finally, hours ahead of another whistleblower hearing on alleged discrimination and retaliation within the bureau, the director responded to claims of his own involvement, including an allegation that he told senior enforcement attorney to "back down" from a complaint about hostility in the agency's work environment.
While Cordray didn't deny the phone call in which the alleged incident took place, he said he was trying to push for a resolution that would allow all parties to move forward.
"I simply wanted to have Ms. Martin reach a productive resolution of her complaint, which we did do so within a matter of a couple of weeks," he said. "That later was reopened, and now we've resolved it again. I want her to have a good position at the bureau where she can do good work for consumers."