IG report fingers NOAA law enforcement abuses

Mike Johnson

American Thinker ran my essay on NOAA’s law enforcement behaving badly at a fortuitous moment.  It coincided with two other closely related events, the release of the Department of Commerce (DOC) Inspector General’s final report and a meeting between DOC Secretary Gary Locke and a Congressional delegation from Massachusetts.

The IG’s final report focused on specific cases of NOAA law enforcement abuses and concluded that there was credible evidence of wrongdoing among the law enforcement personnel of the NOAA fisheries management.  The report can be considered a vindication for the fishermen, but it, in itself, is not a victory.  The onerous regulations, the restrictive allocations, and the suspect science still remain.

NOAA had previously stated that they took the IG reports on management deficiencies seriously and were looking forward, not backwards.  This translated into no plans for disciplining the overly zealous enforcers and no plans for redress of the victims.  The IG suggested that remedial action was warranted for some of the cases reviewed and as we will see, Secretary Locke agrees.  Do not look for significant personnel actions.  To date, discipline has been limited to two individuals, each reassigned in place with imprecise duties but full pay and benefits.

The meeting with Secretary Locke went reasonably well and the Secretary issued a Commerce Department Fact Sheet on sweeping reforms in enforcement.  The Secretary appointed a Special Master to follow up on the IG’s problematic cases.  The Special Master has the power to recommend remedial actions, a step that had been ruled out by NOAA officials.  This aspect of the Fact Sheet is particularly welcome.  The remainder of the Fact Sheet provides an excellent summary of the actions previously covered in NOAA responses to the IG, but does not provide anything particularly new.  In fact, the section dealing with the Asset Forfeiture Fund (AAF) is disingenuous.  I quote:

Secretary Locke announced significant restrictions in the use of the Asset Forfeiture Fund (AFF) to prevent abuse and increase transparency. The new policy now prohibits 50 percent of the Fund’s historical uses, including the purchase of vehicles and vessels; paying for travel that is not related to investigations, proceedings or training; or paying for training unrelated to an integral part of an employee’s job.

The IG’s July report states that each of the items listed as “now prohibit[ed]” was already against policy.  That equates to enforcing the existing policy, not implementing a new policy.

The Congressional delegation wanted a commitment from Secretary Locke to review and increase the low allocations that are currently strangling fishermen.  It was not forthcoming at the meeting, but the Secretary did agree to a further meeting in Boston on 27 September to discuss this point.

Two things bother me. 

Dr. Lubchenco did not attend the meeting with Secretary Locke.  Why not?  I have been told on good authority that Dr. Lubchenco has repeatedly told members of Congress that she takes direction from President Obama.  She did release a statement supporting the Fact Sheet.

Secretary Locke may be a lame duck.  If so, where does that leave his commitments?


Mike Johnson is a concerned citizen, a small government conservative, and a live-free-or-die resident of New Hampshire.  E-mail mnosnhoj@comcast.net

American Thinker ran my essay on NOAA’s law enforcement behaving badly at a fortuitous moment.  It coincided with two other closely related events, the release of the Department of Commerce (DOC) Inspector General’s final report and a meeting between DOC Secretary Gary Locke and a Congressional delegation from Massachusetts.

The IG’s final report focused on specific cases of NOAA law enforcement abuses and concluded that there was credible evidence of wrongdoing among the law enforcement personnel of the NOAA fisheries management.  The report can be considered a vindication for the fishermen, but it, in itself, is not a victory.  The onerous regulations, the restrictive allocations, and the suspect science still remain.

NOAA had previously stated that they took the IG reports on management deficiencies seriously and were looking forward, not backwards.  This translated into no plans for disciplining the overly zealous enforcers and no plans for redress of the victims.  The IG suggested that remedial action was warranted for some of the cases reviewed and as we will see, Secretary Locke agrees.  Do not look for significant personnel actions.  To date, discipline has been limited to two individuals, each reassigned in place with imprecise duties but full pay and benefits.

The meeting with Secretary Locke went reasonably well and the Secretary issued a Commerce Department Fact Sheet on sweeping reforms in enforcement.  The Secretary appointed a Special Master to follow up on the IG’s problematic cases.  The Special Master has the power to recommend remedial actions, a step that had been ruled out by NOAA officials.  This aspect of the Fact Sheet is particularly welcome.  The remainder of the Fact Sheet provides an excellent summary of the actions previously covered in NOAA responses to the IG, but does not provide anything particularly new.  In fact, the section dealing with the Asset Forfeiture Fund (AAF) is disingenuous.  I quote:

Secretary Locke announced significant restrictions in the use of the Asset Forfeiture Fund (AFF) to prevent abuse and increase transparency. The new policy now prohibits 50 percent of the Fund’s historical uses, including the purchase of vehicles and vessels; paying for travel that is not related to investigations, proceedings or training; or paying for training unrelated to an integral part of an employee’s job.

The IG’s July report states that each of the items listed as “now prohibit[ed]” was already against policy.  That equates to enforcing the existing policy, not implementing a new policy.

The Congressional delegation wanted a commitment from Secretary Locke to review and increase the low allocations that are currently strangling fishermen.  It was not forthcoming at the meeting, but the Secretary did agree to a further meeting in Boston on 27 September to discuss this point.

Two things bother me. 

Dr. Lubchenco did not attend the meeting with Secretary Locke.  Why not?  I have been told on good authority that Dr. Lubchenco has repeatedly told members of Congress that she takes direction from President Obama.  She did release a statement supporting the Fact Sheet.

Secretary Locke may be a lame duck.  If so, where does that leave his commitments?


Mike Johnson is a concerned citizen, a small government conservative, and a live-free-or-die resident of New Hampshire.  E-mail mnosnhoj@comcast.net