NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

March 16, 2012

Tierney right to call for inquiry

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration director Jane Lubchenco says she was "appalled" to learn of the abuses on her law enforcement agency's luxury boat bought by fines built on the backs of our fishermen.

She may well be. But she and first-year Commerce Secretary John Bryson would also do well to remember the adage that actions speak much louder than words.

These days NOAA is under fire for an embarrassing scandal - it bought a 35-foot luxury cruiser and allowed agents to use it for pleasure cruises, at taxpayer expense, and tried to cover it up. The U.S. Commerce Department inspector general's office found NOAA had no official need for the boat.

Despite Lubchenco's claims of a "top-to-bottom overhaul" of NOAA enforcement personnel and policies, her actions continue to tell a different story, as long as the likes of former NOAA police Chief Dale Jones is sitting in a $150,000-plus NOAA job. Jones was ousted from his job as top cop when investigations revealed mismanagement, as well as Jones' mass document-shredding operation while under scrutiny by the inspector general.

U.S. Rep. John Tierney is on the mark in calling for a long-overdue congressional investigation of the luxury-boat fiasco. We can only hope such a probe also opens the door to the kind of full congressional probe — with subpoena power — of NOAA's regulations and enforcement that's so desperately needed.

Tierney, D-Salem, has urged the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to step in after Bryson failed to respond to a series of questions in a letter he received from the North Shore congressman. Therein lies a separate problem.

Bryson is merely following the same tack taken by Lubchenco over the last two years — to simply ignore any calls from Congress and to show nothing but contempt for America's governing body on any and all fishery issues. The most outrageous example of that contempt came when Lubchenco walked out early on a Senate subcommittee hearing hosted by Sen. John Kerry so she could spin her agency's case to the editorial board of The Boston Globe.

It's past time for Congress to hold Lubchenco and this dysfunctional agency accountable for failing to take any substantive action against Jones and his ilk, people who abused fishermen out of Gloucester and other parts of New England to such an extent that NOAA's actions drew a Cabinet-level apology and final reparations last summer.

The probe sought by Tierney is — at last — a good place to start.

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