, Salem, MA

March 4, 2013

Our view: NOAA 'Camelot' confab cries out for accountability

The Salem News

---- — It’s hard not to laugh at NOAA law enforcement’s role-playing workshop in which highly paid and supposedly adult lawyers imagined themselves as “knights,” “merchants” or “dreamer-minstrels” in the days of Camelot.

But try. Because there’s not a single thing funny about a government agency that had just been found guilty of widespread wrongdoing against hardworking fishermen spending $288,500 on a three-day junket that included this kind of nonsense — all at taxpayers’ expense.

While federal lawmakers like John Tierney, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and others consider how to best press for financial and/or regulatory aid to relieve what the Department of Commerce recognizes as an “economic disaster” in the Northeast groundfishery, they should also demand a full investigation accounting for every dime spent at this May 2012 Philadelphia conference, for which the agenda and other documents were obtained by our sister paper, the Gloucester Daily Times, through the federal Freedom of Information Act. And they must hold accountable the NOAA enforcement leadership who had the gall to carry out this three-day shindig, including the likes of NOAA General Counsel Lois Schiffer.

It’s bad enough that Schiffer and her enforcement and prosecutorial staff would take their daily jobs as legal jesters to new depths. But to be picturing themselves as “discoverers,” “scientists” — which modern-day NOAA surely needs — and other make-believe roles just after a special Inspector General’s Office investigator delivered scathing new allegations of excessive enforcement against agents and NOAA lawyers alike must be seen as an absolute slap in the face to the inspector general’s office, to Congress, to the fishing industry and, most of all, to each and every American taxpayer.

If Schiffer — whose legal advice to Northeast administrator John Bullard is the basis for upholding the 77 percent cut in Gulf of Maine cod limits that literally threatens the industry starting May 1 — wants to try a little role-playing, perhaps she should imagine herself part of a fishing family whose livelihood is being taken away by their own government, based on scientific data with far more questions than answers, and based on her own legal interpretation that stands in contrast to congressional leaders and even the New England Fishery Management Council itself.

Otherwise, federal lawmakers should place any NOAA enforcement dollars on hold until after first funding the economic disaster this agency helped create.