July 2, 2010

Jones introduces bill to end ‘appalling’ misuse
of NOAA fisheries law enforcement fund

On Thursday, July 1, the U.S. Department of Commerce inspector general released what Congressman Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., called an “appalling” audit of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Fisheries Law Enforcement’s (OLE) Asset Forfeiture Fund (AFF). 

The audit is a follow-up to both the inspector general’s scathing January report that found “systemic nationwide issues” with NOAA’s fisheries law enforcement programs, practices, and personnel, as well as a subsequent report that found that then OLE Director Dale Jones shredded large numbers of documents sought by the inspector general. 

The audit was conducted by major public accounting and auditing firm KPMG.  It found that NOAA Fisheries “administered the AFF in a manner that is neither transparent nor conducive to accountability, thus rendering it susceptible to both error and abuse.” 

It also found that NOAA Fisheries used the asset forfeiture fund extensively “to cover a variety of expenses which do not appear to be ‘…directly related to investigations and civil or criminal enforcement proceedings,’” which they are required to be by law. 

Such expenditures include more than $500,000 spent on international travel in the past four and a half years.  Other expenditures include $4.6 million for the purchase of 200 vehicles for only 172 enforcement personnel, including a vehicle for former OLE Director Dale Jones, who would “ride the train to his office free of charge, by virtue of his status as an armed law enforcement officer,”; $2.7 million for the purchase of vessels, including $300,000 for an undercover vessel that the manufacturer’s website described as “luxurious” with a “beautifully appointed cabin”; and dozens of purchase card transactions that were either improper, fraudulent, or duplicative.     

“The waste, fraud, and abuse revealed by this audit are appalling,” said Jones.  “It further confirms what fishermen have long suspected -- NOAA Fisheries Law Enforcement has systematically abused fishermen in order to pad what has in essence become a slush fund for off-budget, inappropriate, and, in many cases, quite possibly illegal expenditures.  The mismanagement of this agency is just outrageous.

“Furthermore, as long as the agency is allowed to keep the proceeds from forfeitures, seizures, fines and penalties against fishermen, I’m afraid it will have every incentive to continue to engage in these abusive practices,” Jones continued.  “That cannot be allowed.  That is why today I introduced legislation – H.R. 5668 – which would eliminate NOAA’s ability to keep these funds, and instead direct that money to the U.S. Treasury where it could only be used to pay down America’s federal deficit.”

The IG audit report released today can be found here:  http://www.oig.doc.gov/oig/reports/correspondence/2010.07.01_IG_to_NOAA.pdf

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