GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

April 13, 2011

NOAA's top police post; no degree required

By Richard Gaines
Staff Writer

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has reposted the "senior executive" position of director of federal fisheries law enforcement, after deleting the educational requirement for the leader of a $50 million department with 200 agents and intricate domestic and international responsibilities.

After the previous director, Dale Jones, was removed in a scandal, the position was posted last fall with a four-year higher education requirement. But, after a number of candidates were reportedly interviewed, NOAA chief administrator Jane Lubchenco did not make an appointment.

The reposting lists the salary range as $119,554 to $179,000.

Lubchenco, who spent two hours Wednesday before the Senate Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Oceans Atmosphere Fisheries and Coast Guard explaining and defending her $5.5 billion budget request, did not respond to questions about the elimination of the educational requirement for the position.

A spokeswoman for Lubchenco said the matter was being researched and hoped to have a response today.

Previous director Jones, who holds a master's degree, was quietly shifted into another job a year ago this month following a series or reports by the Commerce Department inspector general.

The inspector general's probe documented extensive lack of financial oversight, excessive penalties and vindictive actions concentrated out of Gloucester's Northeast regional office against fishermen and waterfront businesses, and misuse of a $90 million fund built fines paid by fishermen, levied by agents and the Office of General Counsel for Litigation and Enforcement.

Inspector General Todd Zinser also testified to Congress that Jones and his senior staff engaged in a mass document shredding while the IG's teams were working through NOAA law enforcement offices in Silver Spring, Md.

Jones was not fired or downgraded, but was shifted out of law enforcement into a fisheries analyst's position, with his salary dropping from $158,500 to $155,000.

The vacant permanent position was reposted on April 4, with applications closing today.

According to a job description provided to the Times by NOAA last year, the director of law enforcement is considered a "career reserve" senior executive who does not require Senate confirmation. But Lubchenco and her leadership team has invoked the Privacy Act in deflecting myriad questions about Jones' status and departure from the position he held for about 10 years, dating to the end of the Clinton administration.

The acting director, Alan Risenhoover, who has no law enforcement training, had been head of the sustainable fisheries office in NOAA.

Jones was recruited to NOAA from the police chief's chair in landlocked Hagerstown, Md., and then hired colleagues from the suburban Maryland circuit to surround him in Silver Spring.

At the time, Jones' departure from Hagerstown was greeted with relief by The Herald-Mail, which commented that he "erred on the side of his officers" at the expense of the public, and in resisting reform converted communications from "the best department in the region to one of the worst," but the vacancy allowed the city to "trade up."

The director of NOAA law enforcement "involves professional, technical and day-to-day administrative operations," and according to the position description provided to the Times, also requires a "background investigation and a top secret security clearance."

The director is responsible for enforcing criminal and civil laws within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone in contract arrangements with state fish and wildlife agencies and the U.S. Coast Guard, and coordinating international law enforcement on the high seas which is becoming an increasingly high priority.

Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at rgaines@gloucestertimes.com.