In one instance, a boat operator, "with wife and friend aboard ..." needed help because the vessel was "running out of fuel in canal."
Another operator became "stranded with wife in Puget Sound en route to restaurant." In a third, an engine explosion "attributable to operator error" knocked the $300,000 vessel out of commission altogether, spawning costly repairs.
All of these episodes and others detailed in a new report from a federal Inspector General's office might seem apropos of a pleasure cruise company's three-hour tour to or from Gilligan's Island. But they're not, of course — and they're not the least bit funny, either.
All are among the wrongful uses and abuses of a boat bought by the law enforcement wing of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
It is, the Inspector General's office found, a boat acquired in 2008 by NOAA's skirting of federal procurement laws. It's a boat acquired and supplied, with the approval of then-NOAA police chief Dale Jones, through NOAA's Asset Forfeiture Fund — money piled high from the documented excessive fines and law enforcement forfeitures paid by fishermen. And it is a boat ostensibly bought as a "undercover" craft, yet clearly, as the IG's office outlined, misused as a pleasure party craft off the Seattle coast.
Now, it deserves another legacy. If there is any sense of justice within Congress or the Obama administration, the exploits of NOAA agents with this boat should be the final straw that cries out for serious congressional and judicial action and sinks the arrogant, corrupt leadership of this woebegone agency once and for all.
U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and Congressman John Tierney, to their credit, are already pushing for that. Both have called for the firing of NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco in the past. Then, on the heels of the IG's boat report, Brown told the Times he believes a Senate or House subcommittee with subpoena power should begin a systematic investigation of NOAA, while Tierney called for an immediate freeze on all NOAA use of its asset forfeiture cash.
They're both right. But even those steps are hardly enough to restore credibility to an agency that has now demonstrated its lack of any accountability from coast to coast. Indeed, by reiterating his question voiced at a Senate subcommittee hearing last summer, Sen. Brown has put the spotlight on what should now become a rallying cry for fishermen and their backers from here to, well, Puget Sound, asking "What does it take to get fired at NOAA?"
When Brown first raised that question, it was largely in reference to Dale Jones, who — despite being pegged by the Inspector General in 2010 for allowing his agents to carry out excessive enforcement, then leading an effort to shred agency documents while the IG's investigation was ongoing — was merely shifted by Lubchenco out of his police chief's post into a fisheries analyst job still paying him more than $150,000 a year.
Then, last month, NOAA essentially promoted Jones to another management post — supposedly without Lubchenco's knowledge, which raised a host of other problems. Yes, she pulled back that change within days of a Times story reporting the shift. But the fact remains, Jones should be facing potential indictment, not drawing a six-figure check from taxpayers — and keeping him on board can only be seen as her endorsement of his handiwork.
It is past time to freeze the Asset Forfeiture Fund, as Tierney has requested, and it's beyond time to launch the full-fledged, subpoena-backed investigation sought by Brown.
But the Inspector General's pleasure boat report should also, once and for all, trigger the thorough NOAA leadership housecleaning this dysfunctional agency desperately needs.