A contentious situation arose in November regarding the leadership of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), when confusion about leadership appointment came under question. Thursday, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) wrote a letter seeking to better understand how the process became so “flawed,” as a political appointee was nearly handed a prominent career position.
Johnson sent a letter to Henry Kerner, head of the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), to express concerns over the conversion process which took place “in the final days of the Obama administration.”
When Obama-era appointee Richard Cordray decided to abandon his post as CFPB director, he promoted his chief of staff, Leandra English, to the deputy director position. The move set her in line to take over for Corday when he left.
However, upon Corday’s exit, President Donald J. Trump designated Mick Mulvaney, his White House budget chief, to lead the CFPB instead. English contested the appointment of Mulvaney, saying a 2010 Dodd-Frank Act says the deputy director of the CFPB will be named interim leader of the agency in the event the director steps down.
Yet both the White House and the Justice Department maintained that Trump was within his authority to immediately name an acting director to the CFPB, until the Senate confirms a permanent replacement for Cordray.
Johnson, head of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has questioned how English very nearly leapfrogged from a position as a political appointee to one as a senior career civil servant.
He wrote in his letter to Kerner, “Based on the information that [the Office of Personnel Management] provided to the Committee, it may be appropriate for the Office of Special Counsel to review whether the conversion of Ms. English from a political appointment at OPM to a career position within CFPB adhered to the merit system principles.”
Johnson suggested that English’s conversion was an example of burrowing, “a practice in which a non-career, political appointee converts to a career position outside of competitive hiring processes.”
“Burrowing threatens to undermine the merit-based principles that serve as the foundation of the civil service because it allows political staff to be favored over potentially more qualified candidates. The Office of Special Counsel is charged with investigating hiring decisions based on political affiliation, which is a violation of civil service laws,” Johnson wrote.
“According to information provided by OPM, it appears that OPM hastily approved Ms. English’s conversion in the waning days of the Obama Administration based on information that included errors, potential conflicts of interest, and insufficient independent verification,” he added.
Johnson said OPM Acting Director Kathleen McGettigan made assurances that English’s appointment was “free from political influence.” However he said McGettigan’s responses to his inquiry demonstrated “a flawed vetting process in several respects,” including selecting English for the CFPB position “outside of the announced timeline,” a “hastily vetted and approved conversion.”
He indicated the whole processed seemed suspiciously rushed:
“On December 13, 2016, OPM received paperwork necessary to begin its review of Ms. English’s proposed conversion from a political conversion to a career position. The initial OPM reviewer completed the evaluation by December 21, less than seven working days after receiving the request. By December 30, 2016, 14 working days after paperwork was initially received—and during the holiday season—Ms. English’s conversion passed through four additional levels of staff reviews and was finally approved.”