U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s idea to relocate the Northeast Regional Office of the National Marine Fisheries Service from Gloucester to near NMFS’ headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., would be costly and “could be disruptive” and inefficient, NOAA reported to Congress this week.
“Relocating ... could be disruptive over the short term and could potentially degrade NERO’s ability to fully perform its mission, particularly as it relates to management of commercial fisheries in the region,” wrote Scott B. Quehl, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations’s chief financial officer. The National Marine Fisheries Service is a division of NOAA.
The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved a fiscal 2013 spending plan for NOAA in April that included an amendment to close the Northeast Regional Office in Gloucester and move the bulk of fisheries management, administration and law enforcement to Silver Spring, Md.
Mikulski had no immediate comment on the report which was issued Thursday.
Opposition to the move locally was based on the economic impact of having more than 200 of NOAA’s mostly highly paid employees working and living in and near the city. The privately developed NOAA building, which opened in 2008, paid the city $169,185 a year in real estate taxes in 2011.
Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown and Congressman John Tierney all denounced the idea of removing from Gloucester the operational headquarters for the regulation and administration of U.S. waters from Maine to North Carolina. The federal government has been in Gloucester, the nation’s oldest fishing port, since the post-Civil War years
“As I have consistently argued, closing the Gloucester regional office makes no sense and would be a waste of money and resources that we should be spending on serving our fishermen,” said Tierney, whose district includes Cape Ann. “I hope this report puts an end to any irresponsible discussion of closing the office and leads to the wiser decision to retain it in its current location.”
Kerry concurred, saying, “I’ve been concerned about this proposal since I first heard about it and I’m glad NOAA agrees the Gloucester office should stay put. ... it would cost millions to move it at a time when resources are limited.”
The proximity of NMFS’ regional office and law enforcement resources have also made Gloucester the front line in a bitter struggle which led to multiple reports by the Inspector General for the Commerce Department that documented mistreatment of the industry at the hands of NOAA agents and litigators.
One followup report by a judicial master into case specifics led to a Cabinet-level apology to 11 businesses and more than $600,000 in reparations. A second report by the master, Charles B. Swartwood III,
was submitted to the secretary of commerce in March but has not been made public.
The report concluded that because of NOAA’s lease arrangement, moving the office before end of the 15-year lease would be costly — ranging between $31.6 million and $58.4 million depending on the arrangements. NOAA estimated arranging the move would take at least three years.
“Moving NERO and co-located headquarters field offices from Gloucester to the greater Washington, D.C., metro area may result in more interaction between NERO leadership and NMFS headquarters and in closer oversight,” NOAA’s report concluded.
But the report also said, “Removing NMFS services from the greatest concentration of of fishing industry representation in the region would, however, impair face-to-face interactions between staff and industry. It may negatively affect staff efficiency, effectiveness and rapport with the industry. It would also make it more challenging for staff to work effectively with state and federal partners in New England, but improve those relationships in the Mid-Atlantic,” the report said.
Kerry said work needs to be done on “repairing the tension that still exists between regulators and our fishermen.” “Moving personnel away and creating another bureaucratic hurdle is the wrong way to do that. The issue here is Massachusetts jobs and direct access between our fishermen and the regulators whose actions affect their lives. I’d like to see more face-to-face communication to improve trust and basic efficiency and that can’t happen if the regulators skip town,” said Kerry.
The report noted that 3,659 fishing vessels are home-ported in New England, a number that represents 72 percent of the boats with federal permits in the entire region, Maine through North Carolina.
The amendment that would pull the regional headquarters to Maryland was sponsored by Mikulski, chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Science, Justice and Related Agencies. The Maryland Democrat said the region’s federal waters are vast, extending from Maine to North Carolina and “we in the Bay (Chesapeake Bay) don’t get calls back ... This office provides problems at many levels.”
“Better centrally locating the facility at NMFS headquarters would allow for greater coordination with senior management at NOAA and the Department (of Commerce), while saving an estimated $1.8 million on rent and a yet unspecified amount on travel costs,” the Mikulski subcommittee said in its markup. The budget flew through the full committee.
Richard Gaines may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3464 or firstname.lastname@example.org.