Congressional officials criticize NOAA for lack of oversight, action on misspent fishery council funds

Published on
September 22, 2023
U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman.

Democrats in the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee renewed criticism of NOAA’s handling of misspent funds by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WPRFMC) in a letter calling for action.

The letter, signed by multiple members of the committee including U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona) and U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-California), referenced an audit by the U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General – which oversees NOAA – of funds spent by WPRFMC that it had it received from the Western Pacific Sustainable Fisheries Fund. The audit, performed in 2021, found the council’s governance of fisheries fund awards was inadequate, leading to potential misuse of the money. 

The report found the council and its subrecipients claimed questionable costs of USD 1.23 million (EUR 1.15 million) in awards through the fund, and did not “retain adequate support for claimed costs, obtain required approvals from the awarding agency, or properly allocate costs.”

According to the new letter from the House Natural Resource Committee’s members, WPRFMC has still failed to account for over USD 837,000 (EUR 785,000) in misspent taxpayer money. The letter also said NOAA has still not delivered a formal response to the request to rectify the misspent funds.

As of now, the letter states, the WPRFMC has only offered inadequate solutions to the problem.

“We understand that WPRFMC has not yet repaid these funds and has since submitted two proposed actions to meet repayment requirements. These are: 1) use additional federal funding to deliver on a repayment schedule, or 2) seek debt forgiveness through the Department of Justice,” the letter states. “These actions make taxpayers pay twice for WPRFMC’s transgressions. 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 requests NOAA conduct an assessment of its authority to ... 

Photo courtesy of U.S. House of Representatives, Committee Repository

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