NOAA Run Amuck: Fraud, Waste and Abuse

The Providence Business News tipped me off to this story.

The mayors of the region’s two leading fishing ports Wednesday said a special master’s report on miscarriages of justice by federal fisheries law enforcers described an “un-American” system that presumed guilt, and seemed consistent with a disrespectful view of fishermen they said permeates high levels of the agency.
“The penalties were shakedowns,” said Mayor Scott Lang of New Bedford.
“The coercion was remarkable,” added Mayor Carolyn Kirk of Gloucester. “It’s unimaginable that this could be happening in America.”
“Normally,” Lang added, “people go to jail, but here they get transferred to a better climate.” {as this editorial explains-ed.} ….[NOAA administrator Jane] Lubchenco led an entourage to Gloucester last Tuesday to meet with fishermen, issue an apology for failings of the law enforcement system, discuss a suit of reforms and announce the decision to return $649,527 in fines levied against elements of the commercial fishing industry which had its start here in the 17th century.

According to a CBS News investigation earlier this year:

An investigation by the Commerce Department’s Inspector General found the regulations were “unduly complicated.” Federal agents “overzealous” and “abusive.” Excessive fines including one for $270,000 for “administrative errors.”
“We’re honest hard-working people,” [fisherman Richard] Burgess said. “And we have been treated as common criminals.”
The inspector general found the $30 million the fishermen paid in fines went to a NOAA fund with no oversight. The fund was used by regulators to buy more cars (202) than agents (172,) and for trips to fishing conferences in exotic locales such as Australia, Malaysia and Norway. It was also used to purchase a $300,000 “luxury vessel” used by government employees for “fishing trips.”
And according to this memo obtained by CBS News while under investigation NOAA officials in Washington had a “shredding party” destroying garbage bags full of documents.

Another related issue is the “catch shares” policy being pushed by NOAA’s Lubchenco. Congress stopped funding the program, which rewards bigger fishing operations and penalizes smaller fisherman. But that didn’t matter to the NOAA bureaucrat.

As part of its fiscal 2011 Continuing Budget Resolution, Congress earlier this spring voted to bar spending on new catch share systems in the Atlantic and Gulf fisheries through the end of the fiscal year, but in response Lubchenco drew in grants from the Congressionally created non-profit National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and other foundations to fund future catch share systems.

Who needs legislation. Use the bureaucracy, right?

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13 years ago

This is (was) revolting.
Why aren’t people going to jail?
At a minimum, the entire agency (and probably 3/4 of all federal agencies along with it) ought to be disassembled. This is the ultimate in turning the role of government – to serve the public – on its head.

Warringtn Faust
Warringtn Faust
13 years ago

I am always amazed that anyone would expect otherwise. The ethos of civil service ran Amok generations ago. When I lived in Boston, the expression for working for the city was being “on the city”.

13 years ago

Thanks Marc for keeping this blatant example of government abuse in the forefront. The whole penalty process that National Marine Fisheries Service, an offspring of NOAA, utilizes is not quite GITMO, but pretty close. The court system for fisheries violations is about as one sided as anything I’ve ever heard of with a close to 98% conviction rate. Furthermore, there’s this, taken directly off the NOAA’s Office of General Counsel for Enforcement and Litigation (GCEL) FAQ: Q: Can I have a jury trial? A: No. A jury trial is not authorized in civil administrative proceedings. You will have the opportunity to have your case heard and decided by an administrative law judge. Q: Who will be the judge in my case? A: If you choose to have a hearing, your case will be heard by an administrative law judge. Currently, administrative law judges employed by the U.S. Coast Guard hear NOAA cases. So, in a nutshell, hard working US citizens are being denied their right of a jury trial and the cases are heard by a judge, that near as I can tell, equates to a military tribunal hearing. After all, the USCG is a branch of our armed forces, and so the GITMO comparasism, I believe is valid. The federal fleet consolidation is well underway now. The smaller operations are folding up, the larger operations are growing, and pretty soon, the choices that John Q. has at the retail level will be limited as the fleet diversity (I couldn’t resist) shrinks. I could go on and on about this. Fish estimation accounting practices that would make even AIG blush. A prime example would be ever tightening over regulation, followed by the inevitable lowered landings that are then used as evidence of declining stocks that then justify further tightening of… Read more »

12 years ago

HELP! This is also happening in No. CA where NOAA is harassing farmers/ranchers (in the name of “fish” without evidence, etc.) and saying they have “unlimited power to do whatever they need to do, even cut locks, etc….” HELP! There is a STORY here, too!!!

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