After three-plus years with Jane Lubchenco at the helm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, its National Marine Fisheries Service and its Northeast regional office in Gloucester, the organizations are in flux — if not transition, transformation or relocation.
In NMFS's regulatory side, the top eight officials are all in "acting" positions.
With many of the fisheries it manages, including Gulf of Maine cod, which is in crisis and essential to the Gloucetser fleet's wellbeing, the continued existence of NMFS's regional office in Gloucester has been put in doubt by the U.S. Senate, while the catch share commodification program introduced to restore the stocks has been repudiated by the U.S. House.
The catch share approach, which leads to capital consolidation and job loss, has been held by Gov. Deval Patrick to be responsible for a social and economic fisheries failure.
Yet, despite ample notice that the Northeast regional administrator was stepping down last December, no full-fledged successor to Pat Kurkul has yet been appointed. In the interim, Daniel Morris has been serving as the acting regional administrator, setting off chain reaction of acting officials — an acting deputy and acting assistant regional administrator, as well as an acting director of the science center.
The state of NOAA's leadership has attracted congressional attention.
"I don't think it's anything but obvious to say that not having a NOAA regional administrator makes it that much more difficult for fishermen to have the productive face-to-face interactions they need to be heard by the bureaucracy," U.S. Sen. John Kerry in an email.
The Senate's fiscal 2013 budget for Commerce, Science and Justice — which includes NOAA — defunds the Northeast regional office under plans to relocate it to NMFS headquarters in Silver Spring, Md. In January, President Obama announced a proposal — one that wold also need congressional approval — to shift NOAA from the Commerce Department to the Department of the Interior.
The House budget for the second straight year has a rider barring expansion of catch share commodification, Lubchenco's signature fisheries program, which has been promoted by the Environmental Defense Fund with grant funding by Walmart's Walton Family Foundation.
Lunchenco's stridency has antagonized much of the industry; a bipartisan legislative coalition— Democratic Congressman Barney Frank and John Tierney, whose district includes Cape Ann, and Republicans Sen. Scott Brown and North Carolina Congressman Walter Jones — has urged her dismissal.
"Administrator Lubchenco is responsible for a culture of low standards and no accountability at NOAA," Brown said in an email. "Her failed leadership has demonstrated that we need a new team in place to work with the fishermen (as opposed to) against them. It is outrageous and disappointing that (Commerce) Secretary Bryson allows such dysfunctional mismanagement to continue."
Sen. Kerry and his brother Cameron, general counsel at the Commerce Department, in a private exchange of emails obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, effectively threw up their hands at Lubchenco's seeming lack of empathy.
After the senator wrote last Oct. 13 that Lubchenco failed to make people "feel" she's trying to help, Cameron answered, "I'm aware and at wits end."
Meanwhile, NMFS headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., too, has come to be staffed with many officials in acting positions.
That chain reaction began in January, when Lubchenco named NMFS administrator Eric Schwaab to be acting assistant secretary of commerce for conservation and management, a position left vacant by the departure of Dr. Larry Robinson in November 2011.
Schwaab's previous position was given to Sam Rauch on an acting basis; he had been the deputy assistant administrator for regulatory programs. Now in that position on an acting basis is Alan Risenhoover.
Risenhoover was acting director of law enforcement after Dale Jones was shifted aside amidst an inspector general's scandalous revelations in April 2010 until Bruce Buckson was appointed to replace Jones last July.
There are several other NOAA officials in acting positions.
The Office of Sustainable Fisheries hasn't been permanently staffed since Risenhoover, who had no law enforcement experience, was moved in to replace Dale Jones, when Jones was quietly moved out after Inspector General Todd Zinser testified to Congress that Jones had authorized an official document shredding during the IG's investigation into abuse of the badge.
Emily Menashes is the acting director of sustainable fisheries; Carrie Selberg is acting deputy director.
Lubchenco's inner circle also has suffered recent defections.
Former 2008 Obama operative Andy Winer, who became director of external affairs early in the term, and worked to pacify fishing interests resisting Lubchenco's policies and imperious personality, resigned earlier this year, as did Justin Kenney who had been Lubchenco's press secretary.
Monica Medina, who served on the NOAA transition team that selected Lubchenco, then was named by her to bring in catch shares and was made principal deputy undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, is headed to the Pentagon, according to a report Monday in Politico, a D.C. politics internet publication.
None of them has been replaced.
Lubchenco's office did not respond to several queries about the flux.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3464, or firstname.lastname@example.org.