Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), a senior member of the Senate Commerce Committee and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, released the following statement today in response to the U.S. Department of Commerce's Inspector General report regarding abuses of the fisheries asset forfeiture fund by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Office of Law Enforcement:
"The findings released today by the Inspector General detail a stunning litany of abuses carried out in direct violation of the law and NOAA's documented internal policies. This report constitutes further evidence that NOAA must institute a comprehensive overhaul of its law enforcement efforts, particularly in the northeast region where fines over the past five years have been three times higher than in any other part of the country. I appreciate that NOAA has already begun to address some of the glaring faults detailed in this report as well as the IG's previous report on fisheries law enforcement, and I will work to ensure that all of the recommendations contained in this report are followed and that anyone found to have improperly used Federal funds is held accountable."
Snowe Urges NOAA Administrator Lubchenco to Freeze Fishery Asset Forfeiture Fund
Washington, D.C. - In the aftermath of a follow-up report on NOAA's law enforcement branch by the Department of Commerce Inspector General, U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), a senior member of the Senate Commerce Committee and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard today, in a letter, urged National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco to freeze all expenditures from the Asset Forfeiture Fund (AFF). Snowe specifically requested that no AFF funds be used until the agency can implement policies to guarantee the abuses of the AFF are rectified and an adequate system of transparency, regular reviews, and audits.
A copy of the letter:
July 2, 2010
Dr. Jane Lubchenco
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
1401 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Dear Dr. Lubchenco,
The report released yesterday by the Department of Commerce Inspector General probing NOAA's Asset Forfeiture Fund (AFF) details an appalling litany of actions taken by NOAA personnel in direct violation of internal policies, and in some cases, of U.S. law. While I acknowledge your agency's efforts, begun last February, to impose long overdue internal controls over this account, the abuses found by the Inspector General and independent auditors are inexcusable by any standard. As such, I urge you to take additional, drastic measures to ensure that not a single dollar collected by NOAA's Office for Law Enforcement (OLE) or General Counsel for Enforcement and Litigation (GCEL) is expended until such time as Congress and the Inspector General are satisfied that an adequate system of transparency, regular reviews, and audits can be developed and applied.
Specifically, given the finding that "no unit or individual within NOAA has a clear understanding of the AFF and how it functions from start to finish," I request that you immediately freeze all expenditures from the AFF without exception. Since many of the operating expenses for GCEL and OLE have been derived from AFF revenues, these expenses should be replaced from elsewhere within NOAA's budget until the AFF can be managed with complete accountability and transparency.
Furthermore, the misuse of the AFF, including the auditors' findings of 222 violations of internal prohibitions on using AFF monies to purchase vehicles and vessels, costing in excess of $7 million, and that over half of OLE special agents' and enforcement officers' "purchase card" transactions lacked adequate supporting documentation, clearly shows that multiple individuals must have violated NOAA policy and possibly U.S. law. Therefore, I expect that you will carry out a forensic review of each of these transactions and ensure that any individual found to have improperly used government issued purchase cards is appropriately disciplined for these actions up to and possibly including, termination of such individual's service with the agency.
It is absolutely critical that NOAA take all necessary steps to ensure adequate oversight of all resources in the public trust. It is your responsibility to provide fishermen and other users of our marine resources, as well as all U.S. citizens, the assurance that monies acquired as a result of violations of law are being used appropriately. The internal review you instituted in February as a result of the Inspector General's first report on NOAA's law enforcement activities was an appropriate and necessary first step in that process, and this follow-up report should provide more than ample evidence that will inspire you to enhance those actions and expedite the application of transparency and accountability to the AFF as soon as possible. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.
OLYMPIA J. SNOWE
United States Senator