The revival inside NOAA of the career of Dale J. Jones, sacked as law enforcement director in 2010 amid revelations of document shredding and abuse of the badge at the expense of the fishing industry, has produced widespread denunciations and provided a moment of bipartisan agreement in Massachusetts' own U.S. Senate fight.
Responding to the news that Jones had been put in charge of a sophisticated, high priority program to open NOAA data portals to stakeholders, Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and his challenger, Democrat Elizabeth Warren, each issued statements to the Times on Thursday agreeing on the indefensibility of the choice of Jones to launch the Enterprise Data Management program.
They were joined in that view by U.S. Sen. John Kerry, Congressmen Barney Frank and John Tierney, Mayor Carolyn Kirk, former New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang, and state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, D-Gloucester.
Ferrante's activism in 2009 linked the aggrieved fishing industry with the political worlds of Beacon Hill and Capitol Hill, and sparked an inspector general's probe that cracked open the scandal, convincing NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco to move Jones out of the law enforcement director's office.
At that time, Lubchenco shifted Jones into a continued NOAA role as fisheries analyst, and NOAA officials have indicated that firing Jones would be extremely difficult, given service protections.
"It's outrageous that someone with Dale Jones' record of abuse has not only kept a highly paid job at NOAA but has now actually been awarded additional responsibilities," said Brown.
"This is ridiculous," said Warren, who is challenging Brown for the Senate state. "When someone has engaged in mismanagement and unfair enforcement, giving him another high-paying job instead of firing him makes no sense."
Late Thursday, NOAA spokesman Justin Kenney said Lubchenco "was unaware of the decision (to put Jones in charge of the Enterprise Data system) and is currently reviewing it."
Congressman Frank, who has mentored Warren and worked harmoniously with Brown in fisheries enforcement and policy fights with Lubchenco, said he would determine what federal guidelines were being used to rationalize not firing Jones in the past for allowing agents to target fishermen, gather inflated fines and then use the proceeds for improper foreign travel and rolling and floating stock.
Frank, Brown, Tierney and Congressman Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican, have, at different times, all called for the dismissal of Lubchenco as well.
"I was disappointed to learn that Dale Jones has been given new responsibilities given how badly he discharged the ones he had," said Frank. "This confirms my sense that something is wrong when someone with his record could not be disciplined appropriately.
"I now plan to look very carefully at the reasons the Department of Commerce could not discipline Mr. Jones, and if there are statutory bars preventing such action I will work to remove them," Frank added.
"This episode has been mind-boggling for all of us who are used to employment laws in Congress where we have infinitely greater discretion," said the state's senior U.S. senator. "The laws applying to the department are obviously entirely different.
"This leaves everyone in Massachusetts with a bitter aftertaste, especially at a time when so many of us have tried to clear the air and rebuild trust during years when so many fishermen are hurting," Kerry added. "I think we all hoped we'd heard the last of Mr. Jones."
Tierney called it "troubling to hear that Dale Jones is being rewarded with additional job responsibilities at NOAA, despite his egregious work history and the negative impact his actions had on our local fishing community."
"While NOAA may claim legal obstacles prevented the outright dismissal of Mr. Jones," Tierney said, "NOAA must explain its decision to entrust him with these new responsibilities."
The announcement of Jones' appointment to head up the Enterprise Data Management program, which has been in design for at least four years, was made in an unsigned internal email that was obtained by the Times. The unnamed author justified the move by explaining that Jones has "extensive program leadership experience."
NOAA has declined to provide the Times with job descriptions and salaries for Jones' previous and new positions, but the appointment to head the data access program, which restored him as a "manager," was not a promotion, Kenney said.
In a brief telephone interview, Jones told the Times he had been given expanded responsibilities.
As director of law enforcement since 1999, Jones, who had been chief of police in Hagerstown, Md,, was earning $158,500 in 2009. After he was removed from that position, in charge of more than 200 agents, and named a fisheries analyst, his salary dropped to $155,000.
"I can only hope that the exposure that this case has had will ensure that the egregious actions never occur again," said Mayor Kirk.
"I'm completely dismayed," said Lang, who retired as New Bedford mayor in January. "This is the poster child for what's wrong with the federal government and Washington. At the very least, (Jones) displayed terrible judgment and violated his public trust, and to put him in charge of a data control agency is a terrible signal to the public."
Jones survived as NOAA's chief of law enforcement through multiple reports by Inspector General Todd Zinser, which validated complaints by the industry that agents were treating them as criminals and abusing the powers of the badge; he was moved aside only after Zinser testified to Congress that Jones had authorized a document shredding before the IG's teams had completed their sleuthing.
"Only at NOAA can you be found to have shredded documents pertaining to an ongoing investigation and be promoted," said Ferrante. "It's ironic that as our fishermen and our community continues to wait patiently for justice to be served, NOAA continues to serve promotions those who obstructed justice."
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3464, or at email@example.com.