If anyone still clings to the notion that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco has any interest in cleaning up the sludge and the scum that have overrun her agency — or still thinks she’s qualified to head a federal agency that must be accountable to Congress and America’s taxpayers — the last shreds of those hopes have finally been dashed.
The remnants of Lubchenco’s credibility went down the drain last week with confirmation that Inspector General Todd Zinser — in documents obtained by the Times — notified Lubchenco that the shredding operation carried out by former NOAA enforcement police chief Dale Jones and his henchmen was hardly the routine house-cleaning purge NOAA had claimed, but rather an effort that “implicates that it was done to conceal information from the (inspector general),” Zinser wrote,
“Such office-wide shredding was not a routine function for the Office of Law Enforcement,” he found, noting that it destroyed 75 percent to 80 percent of the files in Jones’ office. “Rather,” the inspector general added, “the director and deputy director (Mark Spurrier) told us this was the first such exercise in their 10-plus years with (NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement).”
When did Lubchenco know this, and how did she respond?
On April 2, 2010, according to Zinser’s correspondence. And that was six months before Lubchenco assigned Jones — by then, out of his police post — to a new position as a “fisheries program specialist,” where he’s “specializing” on work in the Gulf of Mexico, at an annual salary of $152,000.
That’s not quite the $155,000 he was earning in the heydays of 2009 and earlier, when he and his rogue agents were handing out obscene and excessive fines to fishermen and using an after-hours break-in and other such tactics in their wrongful bid to shut down the Gloucester Seafood Display Auction.
But it’s not bad money, considering any legitimate government agency and department head would have sent Jones packing, considering he should be facing obstruction of justice charges, not trying to justify Lubchenco’s and NOAA’s failed actions in the Gulf as well.
It’s been more than a year now since Lubchenco vowed to “fix” the problems within NOAA law enforcement. More than a year since she and her administrative sidekick, former Maryland freshwater fish warden Eric Schwaab, said they were indeed tackling NOAA enforcement’s lack of financial oversight and free-wheeling spending that sent Jones, and many others on junkets to far-off parts of the world — all funded, of course, by fines paid by harassed fishermen.
Now, we know that Lubchenco, Schwaab and their allies have no intention of tackling any of these issues. Nothing cries “corruption” like a good old-fashioned, Watergate-style shredding party. Yet Lubchenco’s handling of Jones’ case shows she not only sees nothing wrong with his actions, but believes his expertise should be rewarded with a $152,000-a-year job on the dime of America’s taxpayers.
Perhaps there is a context to her assignment. Perhaps she views Jones as the best candidate to shred any signs of her missteps in the Gulf as well — like the oil spill cleanup study she initially claimed was peer-reviewed, yet turned out to be otherwise, or her classic statement that Gulf fishermen, not the oil from last year’s BP Horizon gusher, are the greatest hazards to sea turtles.
But there can no longer be any context to letting Lubchenco lead a federal agency that shows no accountability to congressional lawmakers or taxpayers and has a penchant for ignoring the findings of potential criminal actions on the part of her former police chief and his shredding buddies.
Lubchenco is not “fixing” anything within NOAA enforcement, or within any other parts of her hopelessly polluted oceans agency. And the fact she named Jones to his Gulf post after being told of his obstructive shredding scheme shows that she endorses it, facilitating the chances for it happening again.
Last year, Congressmen John Tierney, Barney Frank, both Massachusetts Democrats, and Walter Jones of North Carolina, all called for Lubchenco’s ouster.
It’s time that movement was once again brought to the front burner — along with the appointment of the independent prosecutor this entire affair so desperately needs.