Congressman John Tierney says NOAA is in the process of belatedly complying with a 2011 congressional directive to analyze the savings, if any, the agency could realize by closing its Northeast Regional Office in Gloucester where more than 200 employees work in a nearly new $13 million facility.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's decision last year to ignore the order, inserted in the agency's $5 billion budget by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, sparked her amendment added to this year's pending appropriation to defund the operations in Gloucester and shift the duties to Silver Springs, Md, where the National Marine Fisheries Service is based.
Tierney told the Times that NOAA will submit its budgetary analysis of closing the Gloucester operation within "weeks."
NOAA spokesman David Miller said in an email that "NOAA Fisheries Service is continuing to work with Congress on the details of Congress's proposal."
Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown, Mayor Carolyn Kirk and Tierney, whose congressional district includes all of Cape Ann, have all denounced the idea of closing the Gloucester office, which became the epicenter of a NOAA law enforcement scandal in 2010.
In May 2011, these reports led to a Cabinet-level apology and reparations of more than $600,000 to 11 fishing industry victims of justice miscarried.
A second report by the special judicial master is on the desk of Commerce Secretary John Bryson, who has taken a leave of absence following his involvement in a bizarre set of auto accidents in the Los Angeles suburbs two weeks ago.
Even if NOAA fails to report to Congress, Kerry has signaled he will stand against any effort to eliminate the NOAA operation in Gloucester.
"Senator Kerry strongly opposes closing the Gloucester office and has urged the Appropriations Committee strike this provision in the CJS bill (the appropriations bill for commerce, justice and science)," said Kerry spokeswoman Whitney Smith. "The senator will also oppose any effort to include this in an omnibus conference after the election."
A Mikulski spokesperson said the committee, as of Wednesday, "has not received any news on the report."
In explaining her decision to introduce the amendment to defund the Northeast regional office in Gloucester's Blackburn Industrial Park, Mikulski, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, said the office here was known for unresponsiveness and needed to be more closely monitored.
"We in the (Chesapeake Bay) don't get calls back," the Maryland Democrat said. "This office (in Gloucester) provides problems at many levels."
NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco has not appointed a Northeast regional administrator. The position has been vacant for more than six months, and it has been nine months since the former regional administrator, Patricia Kurkul, announced her plan to retire at the end of 2011.
The federal government has operated a fisheries office in Gloucester since the years immediately following the Civil War. Today, the NOAA offices in Gloucester regulate all federal waters from Maine to North Carolina, and are proximate to the great fishing banks of the Northwest Atlantic.
"It is unacceptable that some in the Senate continue to try to push language forward to close the Gloucester regional office, " Tierney said in an email to the Times. "The proposal is baseless and misguided, especially in light of the fact that the analysis the Senate requested is not yet complete."
"My understanding is that Sen. Kerry is leading the effort to prevent the Northeast Regional Office of NOAA from moving out of Gloucester," said Mayor Kirk. "To vacate a $13 million state-of-the art building built to NOAA's specifications and relocate the workforce for what appears to be political reasons strikes me as total government waste.
"The city of Gloucester wants NOAA to stay," Kirk added, "and we want them to focus on their core mission."
The build up of personnel to more than 200 in the regional office constructed for the General Services Administration has coincided with the reduction in the size of the fleet due to law enforcement abuses and conservation efforts mandated by Congress and interpreted by NOAA.
Yet the economic value of NOAA's presence in Gloucester has been recognized by a succession of mayors. The new building, which opened in 2009, pays the city $169,185 in real estate taxes.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.