NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco has rescinded the decision to entrust Dale J. Jones, the deposed longtime chief of law enforcement, with management of a high-profile system allowing stakeholders access to the agency's databases and research into the oceans and atmosphere.
Lubchenco reportedly acted Friday after the Times broke the story of the decision to add management of the Enterprise Data Management Program to Jones' duties as a $155,000 fisheries analyst.
A bipartisan list of elected, federal, state and municipal officials — including both Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and his main Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren — were all quoted as agreeing that the idea of giving Jones the project was ill-conceived and an affront to the public.
Brown described the idea as "outrageous"; Warren termed it "ridiculous."
The original decision to put the data access program under Jones was announced in an unsigned email from Ned Cyr, director of NOAA's Office of Science and Technology. Cyr's decision was approved by his immediate superior, Eric Schwaab, who heads the National Marine Fisheries Service, Justin Kenney, NOAA's chief spokesman, told the Times Monday.
Efforts to reach Schwaab Monday were unsuccessful .
Appointed by President Obama to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Lubchenco selected Schwaab, a non-scientist and career state bureaucrat in Maryland, to head National Marine Fisheries after a 10-month search. Recently, Schwaab was promoted to be acting assistant Secretary of Commerce for oceans and coastal resource management.
In 2010, Jones was quietly moved out of the law enforcement chief's office he had held since 1999 amid a flurry of investigative reports from the Commerce Department's inspector general, Todd Zinser, who painted a detailed picture of a culture that considered and treated fishermen as criminals for technical and largely administrative violations — and fined them excessively, especially in New England and the Northeast.
The final straw for Jones was testimony by IG Zinser that he had authorized a mass shredding of documents that had been kept in his office before the IG's teams had completed their research. Zinser said, however, he could not prove the motive of the shredding was to impede the effort.
NOAA delicately moved Jones into the Office of Science and Technology as a fisheries analyst by announcing the name of a an interim director of law enforcement.
"I am pleased to see that Dr. Lubchenco has overturned this decision," said Mayor Carolyn Kirk. "It demonstrates her commitment to righting some of the wrongs that have impacted our fishermen."
"Now that NOAA has reversed itself and stripped Dale Jones of his new responsibilities, they have essentially admitted that he shouldn't be employed there," said Sen. Brown. "The next step is to relieve Jones of all his duties.
"Furthermore," Brown said, "NOAA's admission that Administrator Lubchenco didn't know about the move to expand Jones' responsibilities exposes yet another example of failed leadership. Lubchenco should follow Jones out the door."
Alethea Harney, Warren's press secretary, said, "Elizabeth is interested in learning more about the current status of Mr. Jones at NOAA.
"What this entire episode illustrates is that NOAA is an agency that needs to get its act together," she said. "Fishermen and their families deserve an agency that is fair, competent, and respectful of the important role the industry plays in our economy and communities."
After the plan to put Jones in charge of the Enterprise Data Management program was reported in the Times, Congressman Barney Frank said he intended to determine what federal rules were seen as protecting him and his position within NOAA, and file corrective legislation.
Kerry described the entire episode as leaving a "bitter aftertaste ..."
"I think we all hoped we'd heard the last of Mr. Jones," he said.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at email@example.com.