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June 8, 2011

Lubchenco won't show for key Boston hearing

NOAA chief administrator Jane Lubchenco, here last month to announce reparations and apologize for excesses and misuse of police authority in enforcing the Magnuson-Stevens Act, has declined a U.S. Senate subcommittee invitation to testify about law enforcement and the hotly disputed privatization regimen for which she has crusaded.

Instead, she will send a subordinate — Eric Schwaab — whom she appointed administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

"Yes, Dr. Lubchenco was invited to testify," said Justin Kenney, NOAA's communications director, in an email. "However, since Eric Schwaab is ... leading the reform of our enforcement program, it was determined that he was the best person to testify."

As the law enforcement abuse scandal broke, Schwaab and Lois Schiffer, NOAA's chief counsel, convinced Lubchenco to ignore miscarriages of justice while reforming the system. It was a decision that drew howls from Congress and was overturned by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke in September during a meeting with political and industry leaders in Boston.

Lubchenco was to have been paired in the first session of the Monday, June 20 hearing in Boston's Faneuil Hall with Commerce Department Inspector General Todd Zinser, who confirmed his place as a witness before the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Service.

"NOAA is at a critical juncture," Zinser concluded in his report on his investigation.

Supplemented by explosive March 2010 testimony to congressional subcommittees of document shredding and millions of dollars missing or unaccounted for from NOAA enforcement's Asset Forfeiture Fund, his reports led to transfers of the director of national law enforcement and most of the cadre of attornies and agents in Gloucester — but no firings or disciplinary penalties.

Sen. Thomas R. Carper, a Delaware Democrat, chairs the subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts is the ranking Republican.

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