SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

October 22, 2012

Independent probe of NOAA needed

Congressman John Tierney is certainly right to continue to step up the push urging Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank to release the extended special investigator’s report citing 66 case studies of likely enforcement abuses by NOAA officials on the fishing industry, as he did in a letter last week.

Yet he, Sens. Scott Brown and John Kerry, and other Massachusetts federal lawmakers should be well aware by now that neither Blank, NOAA chief administrator Jane Lubchenco, nor — therefore, by extension — the Obama White House gives two hoots what any lawmaker says or does regarding the second report culled and filed seven months ago now by retired judge and former Massachusetts Ethics Commission chief Charles B. Swartwood III. And it’s clear that Blank and the ever-defiant Lubchenco have no intention of releasing a report without doctoring it — an effort that shows through Blank’s response that Commerce staffers are gathering “more information regarding issues” cited in the 554-page report. So it’s past time that our federal delegation take an action that should have been pushed long ago — to seek a full-fledged criminal investigation and a hearing body that can, with proper subpoena power, get to the bottom of these excessive policing issues once and for all.

Simply put, the shielding of this report — initially commissioned by Commerce’s own Inspector General Todd Zinser, and carried out with taxpayer dollars — has become an obstruction of justice. And as Tierney himself indicated in pressing for the report last week, justice delayed is indeed justice denied.

Any such probe would likely require a push from Kerry, whose Senate Commerce Committee would be the one to call for such an action. And that could be telling in its own right. While Kerry has touted himself as being on the side of our fishermen, he remains the only member of the state delegation tied to coastal issues who has not called for Lubchenco’s ouster. And his staff noted that, while it’s important for the report to be released promptly, it’s also important that it be “comprehensive” — as if Swartwood’s 554 pages were somehow not sufficient without Commerce and/or NOAA administrative input.

Obstruction of justice and contempt of Congress — as Lubchenco, especially, has shown for three years — are serious matters. And it is only through a fully independent congressional probe that Kerry and his Senate committee colleagues can now convey that these “public servants” are not above the law. An independent probe is long overdue.

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