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December 10, 2012

IG cites NOAA for lack of response

(Continued)

Zinser testified to congressional subcommittees that Jones authorized the shredding of most documents in his files during an official investigation by Zinser’s staff, allowed the asset forfeiture fund — compiled fines and penalties paid by fishermen, many documented by the IG as excessive — and otherwise allowed agents and litigators based in Gloucester, at NOAA’s regional offices, to trample the rights of fishermen. After a special judicial master’s review of more than 50 incidents in May 2011, a Cabinet level apology was issued to 11 of the most aggrieved parties and more than $650,000 in reparations was returned.

The second volume of 66 case studies — undertaken by the same special investigator, Charles B. Swartwood III, at the behest of then-Commerce Secretary Gary Locke in May 2011 — was completed and submitted at least eight months ago, but has not been made public. That Commerce inaction has sparked calls for its publication from the congressional delegation, including Democratic Sen. John Kerry and Georgia Republican Paul Broun, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight.

The section of the IG’s annual report on NOAA’s lackadaisical response to complaints was illustrated with a graph showing complaints at NOAA spiking from about 35 in the third quarter of fiscal 2011 to more than 60 by the third quarter of fiscal 2012. The federal fiscal year runs Oct. 1 through Sept. 30. The NOAA line was in red to differentiate it from other agencies within the Department of Commerce.

“Over the past seven quarters, complaints made to the (Office of Inspector General) hotline have consistently increased, driven largely by growth in complaints related to NOAA,” the annual report states. “While some complaints may have been caused by misunderstanding or miscommunication, they all need to be reviewed individually. OIG provides complaints related to mismanagement and minor misconduct to the responsible bureaus for proper handling. However, many cases referred to bureaus for inquiries and actions have not been reviewed sufficiently or in a timely manner.”

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