While we welcome the additional scrutiny placed on Dr Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); it is not sufficient. It is time for Congress to step in, clarify federal employee protections so that they are not capable of being raised as a shield to protect malfeasance; amend the Magnuson-Stevens Act; begin a thorough congressional investigation; and call for the appointment of Special Counsel.
The executive branch is either unable or unwilling to correct the grotesque abuses perpetrated by NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement (OLE). Dr Jane Lubchenco has testified that NOAA cannot discuss personnel matters due to federal regulations governing the treatment and privacy of federal employees. Eric Schwaab, the NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) Administrator, cited similar regulations in Senator John Kerry’s October 3rd hearing and Senator Scott Brown’s June 20th hearing. Both Schwaab and Dr Lubchenco imply that the reason that no one has been fired (or apparently received much, if any disciplinary action) stems from federal laws enacted by our legislature to protect federal employees.
Thus, Congress must clarify the rules. The apparent malfeasance includes duplicate, undocumented, and unexplained expenses for reimbursement; predatory and capricious treatment of fishermen; the inexplicable, wanton wasting of federal dollars on things like purchasing luxury vessels and more vehicles than the department had employees; a shredding party that destroyed 75-80% of the documents related to an ongoing investigation by the Inspector General of the Commerce Department at the behest of the then director of the OLE, Dale Jones Jr; spending some $580,000 on international travel to over 40 destinations with only 17% of the international travel related to investigations or enforcement proceedings; employing such messy bookkeeping that outside auditors were unable to explain what happened to some $38 million dollars of the $96 million dollars asset forfeiture funds seized in a 4 and a half year period; possible improper ex-parte contact with US Coast Guard Administrative Law Judges; paying for ALJs (that were ruling on the legality of seizures by NOAA’s OLE) to take exotic trips to Kuala Lumpur; and possible witness intimidation.
Yet, no one has been fired and NOAA refuses to comment on supposed discipline. This is unacceptable and we have no reason to think that it will change unless Congress clarifies the regulations.
Secondly, Congress must reform the Magnuson-Stevens Act. There is broad, bipartisan support to do so. Congress would be wise to draw from various proposals including those from Congressman Frank Pallone, Congressman Barney Frank, Congressman Walter Jones, Senator John Kerry, and Senator Scott Brown. The reforms must address the manifestly unjust use of civil asset forfeiture as well as the reviled catch share program. And the reforms must integrate the concerns of the small commercial fishing industry.
Third, Congress should use its full oversight power, including subpoena power, to publicly investigate any malfeasance and exhaustively pursue the effects of the catch share programs. These investigations will serve to inform the reforms to the Magnuson-Stevens Act and to ferret out any misbehavior by NOAA officials.
Lastly, Congress should apply pressure on the Obama administration to appoint Special Counsel of the Department of Justice. Any malicious, predatory, and/or fraudulent behavior that Congress uncovers should be referred to the Office of the Special Counsel of the Department of Justice for prosecution if that independent body finds cause.