Facing then-National Marine Fisheries chief Eric Schwaab at a hearing last summer, U.S. Sen. Scott Brown — citing the documented wrongdoing by former fishing enforcement chief Dale Jones, and the fact that Jones still has a $150,000-plus job on the NOAA payroll — famously asked, "What does it take to get fired at NOAA?"
Now, he and our other congressional lawmakers would do well to ask, "Who's running NOAA's operations?" — or, "Who has the authority to make any changes at NOAA?"
Beyond NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco, the answer is no one. While Lubchenco has placeholders on the job, this dysfunctional agency is being run in large part by a corps of "acting" administrators. And that includes NOAA's Northeast Regional Headquarters here at Gloucester, where, nearly six months after the departure of regional administrator Patricia Kurkul, Daniel Morris is still serving as acting administrator.
He's hardly alone, as Richard Gaines' story noted last week. Schwaab, Lubchenco's chief caddy when she needed a mouthpiece to show up at the Brown hearing and others she didn't deign to attend, is now acting Undersecretary of Commerce. His NMFS position was given to Sam Rauch on an acting basis. He, in turn, had been the deputy assistant administrator for regulatory programs; that position is now held on an acting basis by Alan Risenhoover, who briefly took over Dale Jones' policing post.
The Office of Sustainable Fisheries hasn't been permanently staffed since Risenhoover left to take Jones' hot seat. Emily Menashes is the acting Director of Sustainable Fisheries, while Carrie Selberg is acting Deputy Director — and so it goes.
"Acting" leaders can keep an agency or other organization afloat, and on its current course. But they simply do not have the authority to carry out policies or make other changes, since the perception is a new administrator will soon be taking the reins.
Indeed, this lineup of NOAA's bad actors simply shows the level of absolute disarray into which this agency has plunged under Lubchenco's reign — and it has hit rock bottom at a time when it faces landmark decisions regarding cod assessments and other issues, with the industry's very survival at stake.
To paraphrase Brown, what does it take to get new leadership at NOAA? And how soon can it start?