Cantwell Calls For Inspector General Investigation of Controversial Shipyard Move

Says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Fleet lease competition raises 'serious concerns'

 WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) called on the Department of Commerce Inspector General to audit the process used to determine the home port of the Marine Operations Center – Pacific (MOC-P). At issue is the competitive bidding process that was followed in deciding to locate the home port of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Pacific Fleet in Oregon instead of Puget Sound, WA, where it has been based for decades. The comprehensive audit Cantwell is requesting would be conducted by Commerce Inspector General Todd Zinser, who was present at today’s hearing along with Commerce Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere, Jane Lubchenco. Among Senator Cantwell’s concerns about the MOC-P siting decision to be covered by the audit are:

·       The lack of any business case analysis

·       The avoidance of oversight by appropriate review boards

·       NOAA’s exemption of MOC-P from its facility acquisition policies and procedures

·       The failure to formally evaluate the potential use of existing federal properties to ensure the wise use of taxpayer dollars

·       The lack of a termination clause in the lease.

“Unfortunately, the information provided to this subcommittee has raised far more questions than it has answered,” Cantwell said today as she chaired a Commerce subcommittee hearing on NOAA’s annual budget request. “That’s why today I am asking for an Inspector General investigation of NOAA and this acquisition process. When tens-of-millions of dollars are at stake, taxpayers should never have to hear that the federal government did not do its homework or its due diligence. Taxpayers deserve better, and I intend to make sure that NOAA, the Department of Commerce and the federal government are held to this high standard. The burden is on NOAA and the Department of Commerce to demonstrate that their choices on MOC-P are the right ones – and I have yet to be convinced.”

Last December, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) determined that NOAA’s contract award to Newport, OR, violated federal floodplain restrictions. The GAO recommended that NOAA document whether there was a practicable alternative to Newport’s offer. In light of the GAO’s findings, Senator Cantwell requested numerous documents from the Department of Commerce to better understand the Department’s rationale behind the MOC-P lease award, and to determine if there were other areas where the Department of Commerce failed to comply with its own rules for the MOC-P lease acquisition, but numerous questions and concerns remain.

Since NOAA announced its proposal to move NOAA’s fleet of scientific ships from Puget Sound to Newport in August, Cantwell has raised numerous policy concerns about the agency’s decision.  Cantwell, Murray and several other members of the Washington delegation have asked whether moving NOAA’s fleet outside Puget Sound would damage NOAA’s scientific missions and hurt NOAA’s capacity to hire and retain qualified mariners. They have asked whether NOAA fully understood the consequences of moving its ships away from a major maritime center, and whether NOAA ignored crucial weather factors in the Pacific Northwest. 

Watch a video of Senator Cantwell’s opening statement at today’s hearing.

Watch a video of Senator Cantwell’s Q&A with Jane Lubchenco, Commerce Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere, and Todd Zinser, Commerce Inspector General.


For more information, please see the following letters sent to the Department of Commerce and NOAA by Cantwell and others from the Washington delegation:

02-17-10: Concerns About Continuing Construction at the Newport Site

01-15-10: MOC-P Floodplain Process

12-11-09: Response to GAO Findings

11-25-09: Concerns About Oceans and Weather Conditions

11-23-09: Problems with Distancing MOC-P from Maritime Center

10-19-09: Ability to Hire Mariners

10-16-09: Second Request for Information

10-13-09: Impacts on Scientific Missions

08-14-09: First Request for Information