Sen. Brown Exposes NOAA's Illicit Party Boat
Washington, DC - February 17, 2012 -- Yesterday, U.S. Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) filed a Freedom of Information Act request for an Inspector General report on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) illicit purchase and use of a $300,000 luxury fishing boat. The request was granted, and today Senator Brown spoke from the Senate floor to reveal the numerous abuses detailed in the previously unknown findings of the Inspector General.
The following are the Senator's remarks as prepared for delivery on the Senate floor:
I rise today to inform you and the public of some highly disturbing information that I've just learned about a broken agency within our federal government - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
We all know that Washington doesn't spend our money wisely. But sometimes it is worth highlighting examples of the corruption and waste.
Yesterday morning, I contacted the Commerce Department Inspector General to request a copy of their report on NOAA's purchase of a $300,000 luxury boat.
It would be bad enough if they had purchased this boat with taxpayer dollars.
But they didn't. They paid for it with money that should belong to our struggling fishermen. They paid for it out of the fines that fishermen pay into the pot when they mistakenly catch the wrong kind of fish. Those dollars are supposed to stay in fishing communities to help the fishermen.
Here's the boat. For a government vessel, that's pretty flashy. Take a look inside. That's a fully-appointed bar, the latest in on-board entertainment systems, and leather furniture complete with the ice chest and tackle rack.
Furthermore, the fines that fishermen have been paying are putting fishermen out of business. The stories will break your heart.
So let me again describe the situation: NOAA levied totally unreasonable fines against our fishermen. Then they used that money to buy themselves a luxury boat. So what else did the IG investigation find? Mr. President, here are the disturbing headlines.
According to the IG, NOAA had no reasonable official use for this boat. Let's start there. They didn't need it. Period. They had some story about needing an "undercover vessel" to sneak up on whale watching vessels. Imagine that - armed federal agents sneaking up on school groups and tourists trying to learn about nature. The IG found this to be as ridiculous. NOAA officials wanted this useless luxury boat, then they invented a reason to buy it with fishermen's hard-earned dollars.
So why did NOAA go to such lengths to "manipulate" and "violate" the government purchasing rules to get this boat? NOAA already has many boats and more cars than it has agents, so why add this to the inventory? Well, Mr. President, they apparently didn't need it for official purposes. We know that because the IG says that it was never - I repeat, never - used for official business.
The sad truth is that it was a fishermen-funded party boat for bureaucrats, Mr. President. That's right, while fishermen in Gloucester and New Bedford are struggling to put off foreclosure or mourning the loss of their livelihood because of NOAA's overzealous enforcement, the NOAA office was living the good life on their dime.
NOAA officials used the boat for the following: trips to dockside restaurants; hamburger and hotdog BBQs and alcohol-fueled parties and with family and friends; and "pleasure cruises" at high rates of speed, with beer consumed on-board.
Even though federal rules ban non-employees from being on vessels, a NOAA supervisor even told a subordinate that his wife was welcome to "kick back and watch TV" on the boat.
They filed expense reports and reimbursed themselves for these trips.
What excuse did NOAA employees give for this behavior? They needed to do all these things to maintain the recreational appearance of this "undercover" boat that was never even used for the "undercover" work that it was supposedly purchased for.
Mr. President, let's be honest. A booze cruise is a booze cruise.
One NOAA officer decided to take his family on a weekend trip to a posh resort. He took the undercover NOAA party boat to get there, but he was untrained in how to operate it and blew out a $30,000 engine. Rather than turn back and write the taxpayers a check, he simply abandoned it and took a marked NOAA law enforcement boat the rest of the way to their resort. Nothing could get between this NOAA employee and a good time. When asked about that incident, the NOAA employee lied to the IG and said there was no family on board. That was just one of many instances of NOAA employees deliberately misleading the IG.
Another NOAA officer used the undercover NOAA boat to take his wife to lunch in Seattle. On this trip, the boat engines stalled in a shipping lane because the boat ran out of fuel due to another operator error. The guy didn't know how to switch the tanks. So they were stuck drifting in a dangerous shipping lane. The officer and his wife apparently found the situation comical. Well I don't think that the fishermen in New Bedford are laughing.
Again - the money that belonged to fishermen was paying for all this.
To this day, Mr. President, no one has been held accountable. Let me repeat. No one has been disciplined, fired, or even reprimanded for anything having to do with this boat. As you've seen here today, NOAA has a culture of corruption that has created a chasm of distrust between the agency and the fishing industry.
Here is a list of all the problems I have encountered with NOAA since coming to the Senate: abusive treatment of fishermen, resulting in decimation of the fleet; investigations motivated by money; improper fines, leading to foreclosure and bankruptcy; "shredding parties" destroying 75%-80% of OLE documents; lying to Inspector General investigators; discouraging cooperation with the Inspector General; misleading Members of Congress; $300,000 party boat purchased with fishermen's fines; $12,000 in party boat expenses paid with fishermen's fines; $30,000 engine destroyed by NOAA employee on weekend vacation while using "undercover" NOAA craft.
This is simply unacceptable. This needs to change, and accountability starts at the top. NOAA's leadership needs to change.
I am calling once more for President Obama to fire NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco.
If not now, when? If not for this, then for what?
Our fishermen and the American taxpayers deserve better from their Federal Government.
Watch the Senator's address on the Senate floor: