Orca Whale Killed by Explosives – Will NOAA’s Scandal Beleaguered Office of Law Enforcement Do Anything?

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An endangered Southern Resident Orca, L112 (“Victoria”), was found on the shores of Long Beach, Washington State on February 11 , 2012. (See Orca Killed by Blast for more background information).

L112 with big brother L106 (Photo by Ken Balcomb on September 11, 2011)

Ken Balcomb, senior scientist at the Center for Whale Research has been actively pressing to determine the source of the explosion that caused her death before the trail of accountability can be obliterated:
“The final results of analysis of her tissues and fluids found in her cranium may take some time”, he writes, “but it is important to note that ALL of the expert observations of her bloody and bruised carcass, and her head, concluded that there is strong evidence of near instantaneous lethal destruction of tissues, mostly on one side, consistent with blast trauma, as already reported. Her death was undoubtedly caused by humans, and we have to look for the source of the blast.”
“I have asked the Law Enforcement division of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to investigate so that there will be a clear set of rules concerning withholding, filtering, or losing evidence in this case.”
And finally, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Law Enforcement (NOAA OLE) has launched an investigation. Vicki Nomura is heading the effort.  “The toughest part of conducting an investigation like that is proving the actual violation. When you have a dead marine mammal there’s very little information.”
Of course it does not help that there was a two month delay, and that this response came only after considerable pressure by Balcomb, the media, and the public.
Congressman Sherrod Brown & NOAA party boat

Worse is the fact that NOAA’s law enforcement is under current investigation by the Senate for misappropriations of funds and of turning an ill begotten boat into a “party boat’.  There has been a lack of transparency and accountability in the investigation that has shaken up that office.

Feb 20th 2012, New York Daily News: [Congressman] Tierney also pressed Bryson with questions about the misuse of the fund by NOAA’s Seattle Office of Law Enforcement, which drew $300,787 from the fund in 2008 to acquire a 35-foot luxury cabin boat with flat screen TV and built-in bar for undercover operations — then used it mostly for pleasure cruising in Puget Sound by law enforcement officials, friends and family, the Inspector General found.
NOAA conceded that the purchase violated the “spirit” of federal procurement law; The Inspector General’s report described the events as involving “misconduct.”
Tierney and U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, who separately obtained and released the IG’s report last week under the Freedom of Information Act, characterized the transaction as filled with improprieties, dishonesty and corruption.

March 8th:  At a budget hearing yesterday before the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco was asked about the boat scandal in Seattle, but except for describing herself as “appalled” to learn about the episode, she provided no details.
Lubchenco reiterated information issued in a NOAA press release last month that the boat had been “surplussed,” and that the incident had sparked improved vessel acquisition policy and retraining. But, as she has done in multiple congressional hearings, Lubchenco cited “the Privacy Act” as a bar to informing Congress about any personnel punishment.
She described herself as frustrated by the impediment to providing a public report, while emphasizing a “top-to-bottom” overhaul of policy and personnel — though key figures have been given new jobs.

March 28–Questioning its “accountability and integrity,” U.S. Sen. Susan Collins has launched an effort to break through a wall of silence erected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration surrounding the abuses of its authority while overseeing the nation’s fishing industry.
Collins has requested a meeting at the staff level between the administration and Senate and House Appropriations and Oversight committees in an effort to crack the silence she said has been erected via the misuse of the Privacy Act.
Among the overriding questions posed by Collins, a Maine Republican, in her March 22 letter to Commerce Secretary John Bryson was abuse of the Asset Forfeiture Fund, made up of fines paid by fishermen, and an apparent lack of consequences for abuses by NOAA law enforcers identified by the Commerce Department inspector general’s office in multiple reports beginning January 2010 through late last year.

…U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat, chaired the hearing that was organized by U.S. Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, the ranking Republican.
Collins said Carper and Brown, among “several of my colleagues, … have experienced considerable difficulties getting answers from NOAA regarding the management of the Asset Forfeiture Fund, the integrity and accountability of those managing the fund, the disposition of the $300,000 luxury boat and what, if any disciplinary actions have been taken against employees found culpable in the misuse of the fund.”
Collins made a point of questioning the chronic use of the Privacy Act by NOAA to insulate itself against congressional inquiries. “NOAA officials’ use of the Privacy Act as a sword to protect its reputation rather than as a shield, as Congress intended, to protect the privacy rights of private citizens, is unacceptable,” she wrote.

I have omitted the names of people who may have been involved, there is no point and this kind of boondoggle is rampant in government and in industry.  But NOAA’s law office has a prime opportunity to demonstrate that it can operate effectively, openly, and transparently by engaging in a thorough investigation that does not cover up, mislead, or otherwise try to protect those who were involved in the death of one, or maybe all, of a family of highly endangered whales.

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