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March 1, 2012

IG to NOAA: New probe going forward

The Commerce Department inspector general's office has notified NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco that the investigation sought by two Massachusetts congressmen into the influences of non-government organizations on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and its regional fishery management councils is going forward.

Inspector General Todd Zinser agreed to the probe last October in a letter to Congressmen John Tierney and Barney Frank. They had requested the investigation in an Aug. 17 letter to Zinser.

Ann C. Eilers, principal assistant inspector general for audit and evaluation, indicated the investigation would be national rather than regional in scope in a Jan. 10 memo to Lubchenco, NOAA General Counsel Lois Schiffer, Bruce Buckson, director of the Office of Law Enforcement, and nearly a dozen other high officials the agency.

"Our review of fishery management councils and rule making will be conducted in phases and result in interim products produced at several intervals," Eilers' memo said.

It also said the first step would be an "entrance conference" followed by the "conduct of our review at the fishery management councils and other NOAA locations as necessary."

Zinser's office uncovered widespread abuse of law enforcement authority in 2010, which led to a cabinet-level apology to eight victims of justice miscarried and more than $600,000 in reparations in August 2010.

A special judicial master, retained by then-Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke — now ambassador to China, followed leads into the most egregious cases and has been investigating dozens more, with a second public report based on the follow-up batch of cases expected this spring.

The inspector general's new investigation, as it pertains to the New England Fishery Management Council, arrives as a federal lawsuit against the work of the council and NOAA in creating the catch share regimen for the groundfishery heads into the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

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