GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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December 9, 2012

IG cites NOAA for lack of response

The Commerce Department Inspector General’s annual report for 2012 spotlights a “growth of complaints” made via the agency’s hotline “related to NOAA,” mostly involving “mismanagement or minor misconduct,” and implies clearly that NOAA officials are showing insufficient interest in resolving these problems.

Not all the problems alluded to involve NOAA, but complaints about NOAA increased faster than any other agency in the Department of Commerce in the past fiscal year, the report notes.

Issued under the signature of Inspector General Todd Zinser, the report to the office of the acting secretary of commerce, Rebecca Blank, entitled “Top Management Challenges Facing the Department of Commerce,” also describes what has been a year-long review of “rulemaking” by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and its policy arm, the New England Fishery Management Council.

Zinser began his probe into NOAA’s and the council’s rulemaking last January at the request of Congressman John Tierney, whose district includes Cape Ann, and Barney Frank, who represents New Bedford, the region’s leading fishing ports.

The first phase of the investigation — aimed at determining whether outside interests, including environmental groups, were granted undue influence in setting federal fishing policies — has been completed and the work product is under review by NOAA, the Times has learned from congressional sources. The same sources said the IG expects to issue the results of the first phase of the investigation in January.

The agency’s low priority placed on resolving complaints about “mismanagement and minor misconduct” at NOAA, which the inspector general’s report described, is consistent with the perceived attitude of toleration of major misconduct, dating to the start of the Obama administration when the president’s choice to head NOAA, Jane Lubchenco, chose not to fire, punish or sanction the Director of Law Enforcement, Dale Jones, and his agents and litigators whose actions triggered a series of national investigations and a two-volume set of case studies into justice miscarried against fishermen and fishing-related businesses, including the Gloucester Seafood Display Auction.

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