Kilili expresses concern over allegations of misconduct against fishery council

Dec 26, 2013

THE Western Pacific Fishery Management Council has not acted on recommendations made by the Government Accountability Office and U.S. Congressmen Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan and Henry A. Waxman have expressed concern over allegations of misconduct.

In a letter to National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration acting administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, and acting administrator for fisheries Samuel D. Rauch III, Kilili and Waxman wrote:

“We understand that the Council has taken some positive steps, such as clarifying its record-access policy in their Statement of Organization and Practices and Procedures guidelines. Unfortunately, in the four years since the GAO report, the Western Pacific Council has failed to comply with all the GAO recommendations.”

They said they are troubled by reports that WESPAC is not adequately fulfilling its responsibilities to the people of the territories.

In 2009, GAO issued a report that looked into the allegations and made the following recommendations: (1) GAO recommended that NOAA direct the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council or WESPAC to maintain documentation of all requests for information from federal and state legislators. This was to help ensure compliance with OMB Circular A-122 requirements governing federal grant recipients.

GAO also stated that to reduce the risk of loss or unauthorized use associated with reimbursing meeting participant expenses with cash, it asked that NOAA direct WESPAC to pay per-diem costs for meeting participants by check to the extent practicable.

It also called for WESPAC to implement actions such as (1) notifying NOAA regional counsel before meeting with federal or state legislators or testifying before one of their committees; (2) asking NOAA regional counsel to provide an annual briefing to council members and staff on the rules governing their conduct, including limits on contacts with legislators; (3) adopting procedures that require council meeting minutes to include not only a council member’s statement of recusal from voting, but also the nature of the financial interest that would be affected; (4) maintaining current and archived copies of the council’s administrative records, including council meeting minutes, on the council’s Web site; (5) developing and making available the council’s policy regarding the types of records that are available to the public at the council office, the types of records that are available through a Freedom of Information Act or FOIA request, and the procedures for reviewing or requesting these records; (6) communicating directly with a council member who has requested council information and, if necessary, negotiating a timely response so that council members needing information do not have to file FOIA requests; and (7) clarifying the council’s advisory role by not describing itself as a policy-making body.

In their letter to NOAA, Sablan and Waxman cited the council’s failure to make available on its website the briefing materials used by Council members to make decisions.

“This is a notable deficiency, as all seven of the other Regional Fisheries Management Councils have extensive documentation online,” Sablan and Waxman said.

Their letter also said the lack of documentation “is a particular concern in the case of the Western Pacific, where currently a concerned citizen of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands or Guam would have to spend $2,000 and travel 4,000 miles to Hawaii to review documents in person.”

The U.S. congressmen said the council should follow the lead of other fishery management councils and make their documents accessible on the website.

“The Western Pacific Council’s lack of transparency has led to continued allegations of financial and ethical misconduct, most notably from the nonprofit group Environmental Hawaii,” said Sablan and Waxman.

They said the GAO report in 2009 did not examine the council’s activities in the Northern Marianas, Guam or American Samoa.

They said allegations of misconduct that may have occurred in the CNMI have never been investigated.

“We urge NOAA to conduct a thorough analysis of the Western Pacific Council’s conduct and to require that the council immediately comply with the GAO recommendations,” the letter said.

They asked that WESPAC respond to their questions.

They asked if there is an itemized account of how federal funds allocated to the Western Pacific Council are spent.

They asked what oversight NOAA has over grants and contracts let by WESPAC.

They asked if there are accountability and performance standards in place.

They also raised the issue of conflicts of interest by council members and whether NOAA reviews the decisions.

They also asked if NOAA has investigated WESPAC executive director’s role in developing and promoting the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs’ petition to remove the green sea turtle from the endangered species list.

Variety was unable to get a comment from WESPAC.

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