Subcommittee Pushes DOC to Release Judge’s Review of NOAA Fishery Enforcement Cases
Washington DC – Today in a letter to the Department of Commerce (DOC), Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Paul Broun, M.D. (R-GA) requested the release of two unredacted reports, authored by Judge Charles B. Swartwood, reviewing potential abuses by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) personnel toward individuals in the fishing industry.
Judge Swartwood completed one report in 2011, and the second was completed earlier this year, but DOC has yet to release the second report. Several troubling concerns raised in the first report have prompted Chairman Broun to question the delay. Concerns from the 2011 report include:
“First, there is a siege mentality throughout the fishing industry. Fishermen and fish dealers believe that they are treated like criminals…”
“In this Report, I have documented several cases of aggressive enforcement by NOAA personnel that have resulted in the OIG investigation, my investigation and the consequent recommendation of relief for several fishermen and fish dealers…”
“It is a common belief among fishermen on the East Coast that there is little or no chance of success before a Coast Guard ALJ [Administrative Law Judge] and that NOAA and the Coast Guard ALJs work hand‐in-hand…This perception is not lessened by the fact that both parties can appeal the ALJ decision to the NOAA Administrator. There is little or no confidence in the NOAA Administrator’s neutrality on such an appeal…”
“These are serious issues,” said Chairman Broun. “In my letter to Acting Secretary Rebecca Blank, I have also identified other areas of concern to the Committee relative to NOAA, a bureau within the DOC, involving personnel issues. The Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee’s involvement and requests for information in the other cases have generated incomplete or no responses. It is my hope that as the head of the Department with jurisdiction over NOAA, Acting Secretary Blank will set an example and provide Congress with the unredacted second Special Master’s Report, along with the unredacted copy of the first report completed in 2011.”
“Moreover, Dr. Blank’s compliance will have the added benefit of helping to make the case for this Administration’s commitment to transparency in its federal agencies,” Chairman Broun continued. “Conversely, if she declines to be responsive to a congressional request for information, it will raise serious questions about the Judge’s findings regarding NOAA’s enforcement program,” Chairman Broun concluded.