The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee says it is "greatly concerned with NOAA's lack of cooperation" with the Commerce Department Inspector General's efforts at investigating the "wasteful purchase" of a 35-foot motor yacht intended for undercover operations, but used for joy rides and partying in Seattle's Puget Sound.
The committee inserted the unusually strong language in the markup of the NOAA budget for fiscal 2013, which begins Oct. 1, after President Obama failed to respond to Sen. Scott Brown's letter urging a Justice Department investigation into corruption in NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco's agency. The committee's statement also came after Secretary of Commerce John Bryson failed to respond to a letter by Sen. Susan Collins, which recounted the Seattle boat saga and other examples of NOAA mismanagement and malfeasance.
Brown wrote to the President on Friday, April 13, and Collins wrote to Bryson on March 22.
Both are Republicans, but have worked in a bipartisan fashion with Democrats as aggravation with NOAA has spilled across the aisles. Republicans Brown and Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina — along with Massachusetts Democratic Reps. John Tierney and Barney Frank — have repeatedly asserted that Lubchenco's performance warrants her dismissal.
Collins, a Maine senator who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, asked Bryson for a meeting among the state of the Senate and House Appropriations Oversight Committee "attended by representatives from your office, NOAA officials, and the office of the Inspector General, no later than April 12, 2012, to provide a direct accounting of these issues. Please have your staff contract my staff," she added.
But no response came from Bryson's office, Collins' staff told the Times on Friday.
The White House also did not respond to a series of calls and emails by the Times seeking comment on the Brown letter.
Brown along with Rep. John Tierney, whose district includes Cape Ann, used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain a copy of a report by the Commerce Department Inspector General's office that revealed how the Seattle office of NOAA had gamed the procurement system to acquire an unessential $330,000, well-equipped cabin cruiser, and then used it for joy rides and parties in Puget Sound.
In testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee, Lubchenco implied that punishment had been meted out to members of the scandalized Office of Law Enforcement and litigators who had been exposed by multiple reports from the office of Inspector General Todd Zinser.
"I would love more than anything to be able to talk about some of the things we have done, but it simply is not possible," she said in testimony on March 7.
But Brown, who had been given a confidential briefing by Commerce Department legal staff on the actions in response to the violations that have scandalized the agency over the past two years, wrote to the president that "not a single person has been fired or seriously disciplined for ... serious misconduct."
"The committee is greatly concerned by NOAA's lack of cooperation with the Inspector General regarding the wasteful purchase and use of a 45-foot motor yacht intended for undercover operations that was instead used for carousing in the Puget Sound by government officials," the Appropriations Committee statement indicated. "The committee continues to monitor this situation, and awaits the Inspector General's final report on the ongoing assessment, as well as NOAA's subsequent actions that will ensure such inappropriate excesses do not occur in the future."
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at email@example.com.