NOAA accused of inaction by congressmen over Wespac problem

NOAA is criticized for not taking decisive action regarding Wespac by several Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee in the U.S.
Operational map of Wespac. Photo by: Wespac magazine.
Operational map of Wespac. Photo by: Wespac magazine.

NOAA has been criticized for not taking decisive action by several Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee in the United States. They have raised concerns about the misuse of federal funds by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (Wespac) and the lack of accountability in recovering that money.

This story dates back to 2021 when the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Commerce discovered that Wespac had misappropriated approximately one million dollars in federal funds. Despite this revelation, effective recovery of the funds has not been achieved.

In response to this prolonged issue, Democratic lawmakers, including Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, Ed Case of Hawaii, Jared Huffman of California, and Gregorio Sablan, have jointly issued a letter demanding accountability from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). They believe that while NOAA generally performs well, some oversight is necessary.

"I think NOAA does a good job, but that doesn't mean that they don't deserve a little oversight," Case said for Civil Beat. "After all, this happened on NOAA's watch. How did it happen that Wespac got away with misusing all of that federal money for years when they're supposed to be overseen by NOAA? That's a legitimate question for Congress to ask."

An inappropriate measure for which they propose another unfair and inequitable solution

The letter calls on NOAA to hold Wespac accountable for its inappropriate behavior that led to the misuse of federal funds. Furthermore they are particularly concerning how Wespac proposed to return its funds.

As reported by Honolulu Civil Beat, Wespac had suggested using federal money to repay part of the misappropriated funds or seeking debt forgiveness through the U.S. Department of Justice. Consequently, the committee members believe that both options would allow Wespac to avoid proper accountability, as taxpayers would end up "paying twice" for their improper actions.

"Redirecting new federal funds to repayment or simply forgiving the misspent funds without any accountability for those who oversaw or approved such mishandling of Federal dollars will further erode the public's trust in our government's ability to fulfill its duties responsibly," the letter stated.

Furthermore, Civil Beat explained that members of Congress have also expressed concerns about lobbying activities carried out by Wespac personnel. According to the media outlet, lawmakers have questioned certain measures that could go against ocean conservation efforts. If true, this would represent a misuse of federal funds allocated for the Pacific.

About Wespac

The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, established in 1976, has been a leader in fisheries conservation. Over 42 years, they pioneered measures like banning drift gill-net fishing, creating ecosystem-based management plans, among others. The Council involves the public in local fisheries management, relying on scientific data from the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) carries out their approved decisions, while NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement, the U.S. Coast Guard 14th District, and local agencies enforce them.

About NOAA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), under the U.S. Department of Commerce, has a well-defined mission encompassing the understanding and prediction of climate, weather, ocean, and coastal changes. They strive to share this knowledge with others while conserving and managing coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.

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