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October 13, 2011

NOAA chief left Kerry panel to lobby The Globe

About two thirds of the way through the Senate Commerce Committee hearing organized by Sen. John Kerry in Boston, the lightning-rod witness, NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco, got up and led her entourage out of the State House, creating bad optics and hard feelings.

She stayed only up to the moment marine scientist Brian Rothschild, a learned critic of Lubchenco policies, began his presentation.

But while Lubchenco's communications staff that Monday — Oct. 3 — explained she had a preexisting appointment, they rebuffed inquires from the Times for details of her reason for leaving early, and after getting more than an earful from Senate and congressional colleagues of Kerry's, especially Sen. Scott Brown, and Reps. Barney Frank and John Tierney.

Thursday, the Times confirmed from multiple sources that Lubchenco left the field hearing — one that Kerry postponed more than once to accommodate her — for a meeting across town aimed at lobbying support from the Editorial Board of The Boston Globe.

Asked to explain the decision Thursday, Justin Kenney, Lubchenco's communications director, issued a statement.

"Dr. Lubchenco arrived Sunday night, testified Monday morning and answered every question and stayed at the hearing for much of the second panel," Kenney said. "Before returning to Washington for afternoon appointments, she met with reporters and editorial board members of The Boston Globe.

"This meeting (with the Globe)," said Kenney, "was an opportunity to discuss the progress we've made and the challenges we face in rebuilding our fisheries and strengthening the jobs and communities that depend on them."

Learning Thursday that Lubchenco had left the Senate hearing for an editorial board meeting, Sen. Brown — who invited Lubchenco to testify at a Senate subcommittee hearing he organized in June, only to have her decline, and send assistant administrator Eric Schwaab instead — issued a statement saying he questions whether she is the right person for the job.

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