NOAA Initiates Additional Actions to Improve Control of Asset Forfeiture Fund

July 29, 2010

Building on the significant actions it has already taken, NOAA today released  a formal Corrective Action Plan for its Asset Forfeiture Fund, to ensure that monies collected from fisheries enforcement penalties are properly accounted for and used.

The plan, which responds to the recommendations made by the Commerce Department Inspector General in its July report, continues the improvement of oversight and monitoring of the fund begun earlier this year. It includes 31 specific corrective actions covering 13 elements that NOAA is taking to improve the management, accountability, and transparency of the fund. Most of the plan’s corrective actions will be completed between this fall and the end of the year.

Among the steps NOAA has already taken and will be taking are:

  1. Confirm the balance of the fund as of March 2010 by an independent certified public accounting firm. This action was initiated on May 21 and is underway.

  2. Conduct a comprehensive audit on the fund in FY2011 and communicate the results of the audit to outside stakeholders and NOAA and Department of Commerce leaders within 15 days of its completion.

  3. Clarify what the funds may and may not be used for, and under what circumstances, so fund activity can be tracked and monitored, and compared to other federal agencies with similar funds. The fund, which was established by the Magnuson-Stevens Act and other laws, is currently used by NOAA’s Fisheries Service Office of Law Enforcement and General Counsel for Enforcement and Litigation for non-salary expenses.

  4. Ensure that the funds are detailed and accounted for in NOAA’s next annual budget summary in January 2011.

  5. Develop and implement a policy regarding the acquisition and management of vehicles by the Office of Law Enforcement.

  6. Review the use of purchase cards by the Office of Law Enforcement and General Counsel for Enforcement and Litigation to appropriately reduce the number of card holders.

  7. Implement more stringent controls for purchase card transactions paid for by the fund, ensuring they meet with NOAA acquisition policy and standards.

  8. Institute a single point of accountability for collection and disbursement of the fund.

“This plan is another big step in a significant overhaul of NOAA’s enforcement program,” said Dr. Jane Lubchenco, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “My goal is an exemplary program characterized by effective leadership, transparency, accountability, and strong community support.”

Earlier this month, Dr. Lubchenco directed three of her top staff—NOAA general counsel Lois Schiffer, NOAA assistant administrator for fisheries Eric Schwaab, and NOAA chief financial officer Maureen Wylie—to develop a plan for proper budgeting, expenditure approval and tracking, accounting, and external review of the fund.

As NOAA takes these corrective measures, it is also holding a summit on law enforcement in Washington, D.C. on August 3, bringing together stakeholders from the commercial and recreational fishing industries, non-governmental organizations, and state and federal enforcement officials, and experts. The one-day meeting will look at improving compliance with regulations and developing forward-looking strategies to advance NOAA’s enforcement programs to protect and sustain the nation's marine resources. The more than 80 invited participants were selected based upon their expertise in the issue and experience with natural resource management and regulation at the federal, state, and local levels. In addition, participants will represent a wide cross-section of people both from regulated communities and non-governmental organizations.

Within a few months of taking office, Dr. Lubchenco requested the Commerce Department Inspector General review NOAA’s law enforcement efforts. Actions announced today are part of a comprehensive response to the Inspector General’s reports, and a forward-looking analysis by NOAA to develop an effective law enforcement program.

NOAA has already taken a number of specific, concrete measures in fisheries law enforcement in response to the Inspector General’s report:

Additional actions will be announced as they are developed.

NOAA is charged with ensuring the sustainability of our nation’s marine resources and their habitat under a number of statutes, including the Magnuson Stevens Act and the Endangered Species Act. NOAA is committed to strong, effective and fair enforcement of those statutes.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Visit us on Facebook.