Sen. Brown wants the NOAA chief fired for agency misconduct

Thursday - 4/19/2012, 2:20pm EDT

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency's administrator is on the hot seat because of allegations of misconduct and abuse by bureau officials.

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) is asking the White House to fire NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco for her inaction after the Commerce Department's inspector general found mismanagement and potential fraud and abuse of millions of dollars in the agency's Fisheries Enforcement Asset Forfeiture Fund.

The Fisheries Enforcement Asset Forfeiture Fund is charged with overseeing fishermen and fisheries to ensure they follow laws and regulations.

Brown said failings of Lubchenco to discipline those involved in violating agency and federal procurement policy shows a lack of understanding of the situation.

"The misconduct at NOAA is even more serious than that at GSA, as the NOAA scandals involve wasteful spending that was financed through abusive treatment of both our fishermen and [the] American taxpayer," Brown wrote in his letter to the President on April 13. "The Commerce Department Inspector General has documented that NOAA employees engaged in acts that we believe constitute deliberate breaches of the public trust and arguably the laws of our nation. Despite these multiple reports, no one at NOAA has been held accountable."

Brown said three senior GSA officials have either been fired or resigned and as many as 10 others are on administrative leave during the investigation of lavish spending at the Western Regions Conference in October 2010.

A request to the White House and to NOAA for comments on Brown's letter has not been returned.

The Commerce IG found in a November 2011 report that NOAA employees manipulated procurement rules to buy a $300,000 fishing boat, and used the boat on the weekend for personal purposes. The IG said a NOAA procurement attorney advised against buying the boat, yet they did so anyways.

Auditors found the employees used the boat for trips that totaled more than 100 miles and charged the government more than $12,000 for gas and docking fees. The IG also has found that since buying the boat, it has only been used for official purposes nine times in three years.

Brown said NOAA employees actually mislead the IG when they were questioned about the use of the boat by family and friends.

Brown said NOAA employees also tried to cover up the problems. He said Dale Jones, a former chief of NOAA law enforcement, shredded 75 percent to 80 percent of the files in his office during an active IG investigation into his office's conduct.

"Administrator Lubchenco has been even less forthcoming-she kept an IG report on the NOAA party boat secret until I requested it," he wrote. "Although she now claims to have tipped off the IG about the boat, the IG's report gives credit to an internal whistleblower, not Administrator Lubchenco."

Brown added the changes instituted by Lubchenco in the light of the IG report are not enough.

"[T]hese scandals came to light under Administrator Lubchenco's watch. Instead of cleaning house and restoring the agency's reputation with the fishing community, she has protected the wrongdoers," he said. "She has gone beyond all legal requirements in her protection of those who should be facing serious discipline. Given the opportunity to bring the agency back to health, she has chosen to keep bad actors in positions of power."

RELATED STORIES:

Papers: Fed boat bought with fines used for fun

Shakeup at GSA