Rats — actual rodents — are infesting the newly renovated Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s headquarters, The Daily Caller News Foundation has learned.
Hundreds of the agency’s employees moved into their beautiful $124 million headquarters across the street from the White House in October as construction was still underway. Upon entering, they discovered rats also were making it their home, according to two sources who spoke to TheDCNF on the condition of anonymity.
The $124,000,000 price tag was double the original $55 million estimate and 25 percent over the $99 million estimate approved by Richard Cordray, the bureau’s first director. White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney has temporarily taken over the reins of the troubled bureau.
Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) when she was serving in the Department of the Treasury during former President Barack Obama’s administration. The bureau’s mandate is to protect consumers, but it seems to be running into problems protecting its employees.
“Right from the start there were reports of rats in the building,” one employee told TheDCNF in an interview. “There were rat sightings. One person had a rat in her trash can, and they couldn’t get it out. Rat feces were on the floor and on people’s desks. Rats are running across people’s feet when they’re sitting there trying to work,” he said.
“There was a woman who had a rat run across her feet when she was sitting at her desk. She started screaming,” he recalled.
A CFPB spokesman confirmed rats do indeed run throughout parts of the building. “The Bureau identified an issue with rodents appearing in some areas of the building, due in part to the ongoing construction in the basement and ground level areas,” he told TheDCNF in a statement.
Another source told TheDCNF rat traps can be found on all six floors of the building.
The building enjoyed a luxurious upgrade, a CFPB spokesman told TheDCNF during a recent tour of the headquarters. Cordray authorized the lavish renovation of the 1970s-era building, which the Office of Thrift Supervision originally operated, the spokesman said.
The building was converted from a “Class C” building — common for most federal buildings — to a “Class A” building, which is considered one of the most luxurious levels for a commercial office buildings, the spokesman confirmed to TheDCNF.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a Texas Republican and chairman of the House Financial Services Committee once compared the high-priced federal building to India’s Taj Mahal. (RELATED: An Exclusive Peek Into Elizabeth Warren’s Luxurious CFPB Headquarters)
“Richard Cordray spent an obscene about of money on renovating the CFPB, and his lavish spending could not even prevent a rat infestation,” Rep. Sean Duffy, a Republican from Wisconsin, told TheDCNF. Duffy, an outspoken critic of the CFPB, is chairman of a House Financial Services subcommittee.
It may not be so reassuring to CFPB’s employees to learn its top officials minimized the risks of rats. The officials said in an interview with TheDCNF its standard of the health risks posed by the rats were actual bites or hospitalization. “There have been no reported bites, hospitalizations, or anything of that nature,” the spokesman explained to TheDCNF.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, warns citizens rats are dangerous to health without a bite. The feces can also be dangerous.
“Worldwide, rats and mice spread over 35 diseases. These diseases can be spread to humans directly, through handling of rodents, through contact with rodent feces, urine, or saliva, or through rodent bites,” the CDC explains on its website.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also contains a warning on its website about the dangerous rats pose.
“Each year, rodents cause significant damage to property, crops, and food supplies across the United States. In addition to damaging property, rodents may also spread diseases, posing a serious risk to public health,” according to the EPA.
One of the most common diseases of exposure to rat saliva and feces is something called Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome or HPS, the CDC reports. “HPS is a severe, sometimes fatal, respiratory disease in humans caused by infection with hantaviruses,” the agency notes. “Anyone who comes into contact with rodents that carry hantaviruses is at risk of HPS.”
“When fresh rodent urine, droppings, or nesting materials are stirred up, tiny droplets containing the virus get into the air,” the CDC report continued. This process is known as “airborne transmission.”
“Scientists believe that people may be able to get the virus if they touch something that has been contaminated with rodent urine, droppings, or saliva, and then touch their nose or mouth,” according to the federal government’s top anti-disease agency.
The CDC emphasizes some victims of HPS may not ever come in contact with the rats or their droppings. “Recent research results show that many people who became ill with HPS developed the disease after having been in frequent contact with rodents and/or their droppings around a home or a workplace. On the other hand, many people who became ill reported that they had not seen rodents or rodent droppings at all,” the CDC estimated. “It has a mortality rate of 38 percent.”
A big part of the problem was to move in staff while construction was still underway. “Frankly they shouldn’t have moved people into the building before it was done, but they did,” the CFPB source told TheDCNF.
Construction workers can be seen throughout the basement and first floor where rats can enter the building. “A big part of the problem is that until the building is completely closed in and the construction done, it’s just hard to keep them out,” the employee told TheDCNF.
The CFPB employees requested the ability to telework. Their chief administrative officer agreed, but lower level managers refused to permit telework, according to the source.
“One manager even said, ‘Well you can’t telework unless you’ve seen a rat,’” another CFPB employee complained to TheDCNF.
“It’s just shocking, frankly, to me that the agency, when Richard Cordray was running it, that you would move people into that building when you know there’s a rat problem and not let them telework as an option,” the employee said.
“I have never seen a lack of competence from top-to-bottom from managers. It’s shocking,” he told TheDCNF.
Duffy thinks the idea of “the swamp” was particularly appropriate for the CFPB.
“When we say ‘drain the swamp,’ we typically mean that it’s time to reform unaccountable agencies like the CFPB,” the congressman told TheDCNF. “But because of former director Cordray’s poor leadership, ‘drain the swamp’ even pertains to a literal swamp of rodents.”
This report, by Richard Pollock, was cross posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.