November 15, 2021
Washington, D.C. — Water Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee Chair Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Gregorio Sablan (D-CNMI) issued the following joint statement regarding the recent audit of the Western Pacific Sustainable Fisheries Fund (WPSFF) conducted by the Department of Commerce Office of the Inspector General.
The audit found that the Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council (WESPAC) and its sub-recipients claimed questionable costs of more than $1.2 million in awards – 40% of all costs it examined – and didn’t obtain required approvals or have sufficient documentation.
“The results are deeply alarming. The Inspector General’s audit is a necessary first step towards the transparency and accountability that is needed to ensure WESPAC is not wasting the taxpayers’ money it is entrusted with,” Chair Grijalva said. “As damning as this report is, it raises more questions about WESPAC than it answers. Their financial activities should continue to be examined.”
“The Western Pacific Council’s management of the Western Pacific Sustainable Fisheries Fund Award has long been questionable, and this audit of the Fund paints an unflattering picture of WESPAC’s financial activities, to say the least,” said Rep. Huffman. “As Chair of the Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee, it is clear Congress must take action to improve oversight and management of WESPAC and ensure that government funds are being spent responsibly. On Tuesday, we are holding a hearing on my and Rep. Case’s bill, the Sustaining America’s Fisheries for the Future Act, which takes steps to address these issues by adding transparency and reporting requirements for the Fund.”
“The Inspector General’s report underscores the need for substantial reforms in the way that WESPAC does business. Our federal dollars should be spent on the critical mission of sustaining and conserving vital marine ecosystems, not on controversial awards and questionable and unsupported spending at the behest of council staff with potential conflicts of interest,” said Rep. Case. “This report is just the beginning of our inquiry and response. We must act on the report’s findings to prevent any further waste and abuse of government funds by WESPAC and potentially other regional fishery councils operating under the same rules.”
“The Inspector General found $1.2 million in questionable expenditures by WESPAC and breaches of the rules on sole-source contracts and other financial controls. This all confirms the concerns that led Chair Grijalva, Representatives Huffman and Case, and me to request this in-depth audit of how WESPAC uses federal funds,” said Rep. Sablan. “I look forward to the decision of NOAA’s Grants Management Division on the appropriate next steps to recover any money that was improperly paid.”
The WPSFF administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was established under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act (MSA) and was intended to support conservation efforts in the U.S. Pacific territories and Hawai’i. Funds are provided by NOAA to WESPAC, which carries out contracts and subawards for projects. However, concerns raised from oversight of NOAA led to the audit request by Chair Grijalva, Rep. Huffman, Rep. Case and Rep. Sablan more than two years ago.
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