Investigative Group

EXCLUSIVE: ‘Noxious Fumes’ Now Sicken CFPB Employees At Luxurious New Headquarters

“Noxious fumes” are sickening Consumer Financial Protection Bureau employees at its newly renovated headquarters, The Daily Caller News Foundation Investigative Group learned.

It is the second health hazard employees have faced since re-occupying the renovated headquarters still under construction. Employees recently incurred an infestation of rats, which is also tied to the ongoing construction. About 750 employees work in the building that sits on prime real estate across from the White House.

The bureau was the first new agency President Obama created. Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren originally founded it as an agency designed to protect consumers.

Some bureau employees have already fled the building and are telecommuting, a CFPB spokesman confirmed. Fumes are wafting throughout the six-floor building.

“People are nauseous and dizzy” from the fumes, which occurred via chemicals used in the still-under-construction basement, a CFPB employee told TheDCNF.

A circulated memo to all CFPB employees was given to TheDCNF by a Samuel Gilford, an official bureau spokesman. “If necessary, please contact your manager about telework and other workplace flexibilities that may be available to you,” the staff notification shows.

“We’ve been experiencing noxious fumes for a while, and people are saying they are getting sick,” a CFPB employee told TheDCNF. “People should not be in that building. They need to evacuate that building until it’s ready for occupancy,” he said. A “very large number” of CFPB employees have left the building and are working from home, he added.

The federal employee would only be able talk to TheDCNF anonymously, for he felt his position would be in jeopardy if CFPB management learned he was talking to reporters, he said.

The staff believes the premature return to the building was one of a long list of management mistakes, the CFPB employed explained to TheDCNF. Bureau employees believe the latest environmental problems at its headquarters may be the reason for CFPB Chief Operating Officer Santaj Alag’s abrupt announcement of his resignation the week of March 12 — Alag joined the agency in July 2013 — he told TheDCNF. Alag’s last day will be April 18, Alag reportedly told CFPB colleagues, according to The Morning Consult.

Alag might have been pushed out because he was only a year away from retirement, which would have entitled him to lifetime health coverage and an annuity, the source speculated.

Former CFPB bureau director Richard Cordray made the decision to reoccupy the building while it was still under construction. Cordray left November 2017 to launch a planned Democratic gubernatorial campaign for Ohio.

The new health risk may further strengthen the hand of acting director Mick Mulvaney, who President Donald Trump appointed to take over its management. He pledged to drastically change the troubled bureau in the form of a five-year strategic plan. Mulvaney is also simultaneously serving as the White House director for the Office of Management and Budget.

Grunley Construction is renovating the building — a process that has suffered significant cost overruns. Building costs are now at least $124 million, which is more than 25 percent over its originally approved budget and double the initial construction estimate.

Consumer Education and Engagement deputy associate director Gail Hillebrand was the reportedly author of a memo circulated to bureau employees on March 20, according to the source.  The memo acknowledged the “construction vapors you may have experienced today.” CFPB gave the memo to TheDCNF following its inquiry about the fumes at the bureau.

The employee memo stated one concerned CFPB employee who went so far as to call the District of Columbia’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services to ensure the air quality was safe.

“DC Fire & EMS entered the building and measured the air quality,” the memo stated. “They determined the air quality is within safe limits.” The memo failed to describe the fumes’ chemical composition and air quality standards it was relying upon.

The CFPB official tried to re-assure employees earlier air testing over the last weekend determined the building was safe. Earlier testing  showed the building  was “determined to be safe. In addition to these evaluations, GSA plans to conduct regular air quality monitoring within the building until the work in the parking levels is completed,” the memo stated.

But the bureau, which does not rely on Congress for its funding, decided to upgrade the structure to the highest commercial standards for office buildings.

It was management’s goals to upgrade the CFPB from a “Class C” to a “Class A” building, a CFPB spokesman told TheDCNF during its February tour of the new headquarters. Class C construction is the condition of most federal buildings. Class A structures are considered among the most prestigious and luxurious buildings available on the private market.

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