, Gloucester, MA

November 19, 2012

Editorial: What does it take for criminal probe of NOAA actions?

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — So, the new head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s law enforcement wing is touting his agency as assuring “a level playing field for fishermen.”

And a NOAA promotional video — showing, believe it or not, enforcement agents boarding boats to ensure that “level playing field” — hails them for knowing that “fair and effective enforcement is vital to managing our nation’s fisheries and integral to protecting marine resources and their habitats ...” and even dare to suggest that “the vast majority of fishermen follow the rules and count on us for help.”

Since when did the federal government start producing such blatant works of fiction?

OK, we believe Bruce Buckson, NOAA’s second-year law enforcement director, would like to be able to tout his agency in that fashion. But the reality is, there remains no sign whatsoever that he or NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco have taken legitimate steps in addressing the heavy-handed tactics used by agents and prosecutors that led to the agency and its parent Commerce Department being cited by its own Inspector General, issuing a Cabinet-level apology to fishermen and doling out more than $600,000 in reparations for excessive enforcement in 2011.

For Buckson and NOAA in general to spend even a dime on this kind of bogus PR when they and the Commerce Department continue to refuse release of the so-called Swartwood II report – a 550-page follow-up report delving deeper into 66 additional cases of excessive NOAA enforcement — is beyond hypocritical. It has reached the point at which it must be considered a criminal obstruction of justice.

By denying the report’s release to U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, Congressman John Tierney and others, Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank and NOAA’s Lubchenco not only continue show an ongoing lack of accountability to fishermen and taxpayers at large, but a contempt for Congress that has been a Lubchenco hallmark since she took office in 2009 with her job-killing catch share fishery system in tow.

U.S. Sen. John Kerry continues to issue blind-faith statements holding out hope that “we believe” the report will be made public “very soon,” and — to their credit — Sen. Scott Brown and Congressman John Tierney are more emphatic, demanding new leadership at NOAA with Lubchenco’s ouster, and calling NOAA’s Swartood cover-up “an outrage.”

But it’s now been more than a year since Brown — frustrated by Lubchenco’s defiance and the shuttling of document-shredder Dale Jones, NOAA’s top cop during the excessive enforcement and fine abuse scandal, into another $150,000 job — asked the quintessential question: “What does it take to get fired at NOAA?”

Given the eight-month delay on the Swartwood report, we can only ask another question: “What does it take to launch a full-fledged congressional investigation, with subpoena power and criminal indictments, into this defiant and downright corrupt agency that continues to put fishing families out of work?”

We’ll be waiting for that answer. It is long, long overdue.