WASHINGTON Two senior House Democrats are raising concerns about a highly anticipated House Financial Services subcommittee hearing scheduled for Wednesday to examine grievances filed by employees at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Reps. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., the ranking member on the panel, and Al Green, D-Texas, penned a letter to Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, on Monday, requesting that the hearing be cancelled because the focus of the investigation has shifted from broad concerns about discrepancies in employee treatment to the details of a specific employee's complaint, which is still pending.
"It appears now that the hearing will focus exclusively on an individual employee's claim, which our understanding is the subject of a confidential and on-going grievance resolution process, and a discussion of which potentially jeopardizes the individual employee's case and the disclosure of the privacy of other CFPB employees," the lawmakers said. "Further, 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."
House Republicans scheduled the hearing after a March 6 American Banker article revealed statistical differences in employee evaluations by race across the agency. The story also discussed a large number of employee grievances at the agency, though it did include details of specific cases.
The House Financial oversight subcommittee hearing, however, appears to be focusing on a particular case, that of Angela Martin, a senior enforcement attorney at the agency who is at the center of an unresolved Equal Employment Opportunity complaint against the CFPB. The hearing will include testimony from Martin as well as a written statement from an investigator who was hired to look into Martin's claims. The CFPB has declined to send representatives to the hearing because it was focused on a single case and would interfere with the complaint process.
The two Democratic lawmakers signaled concern last week about the allegations of discrimination brought to light in the American Banker article, signing on to a letter with several colleagues asking half a dozen additional financial agencies to look into their own personnel practices.
But Waters and Green argued on Monday that while they remain concerned about internal disparities for women and minorities across the banking agencies, they are concerned that "a more fruitful discussion of the CFPB's general personnel practices has been dismissed in exchange for Congressional adjudication of a single issue."
They added: "It is our hope that in cancelling the hearing, you will instead commit to working in a bipartisan manner to fully investigate potential discrimination, as well as efforts to achieve equality of opportunity within all federal agencies, as well as the various industries within our committee's jurisdiction."
House Republicans shot back quickly on Monday afternoon, calling the Democrats' challenge an "attempt to silence and intimidate whistle-blowers," according to a statement from Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., chairman of the banking panel's oversight and investigations subcommittee. "It's extremely disturbing that Democrats and the CFPB want to sweep this under the rug."
McHenry and Hensarling added in a letter to Waters and Green that the "issues raised in the American Banker article will continue to be a focus of the subcommittee's attention at the hearing, as will protecting the rights of whistle-blowers who have come forward to provide their testimony."