Thank goodness Sen. Maria Cantwell continues to pursue the great NOAA boondoggle.
In case you hadn’t heard: This state’s junior senator recently struck a blow for U.S. taxpayers and earned applause for her grilling of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, the former Washington state governor, over the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency’s flawed plan to move the agency’s homeport to — where? — Newport, Ore.
Cantwell made use of a committee hearing to question Locke about the NOAA inspector general’s finding that the agency should have looked at existing federal facilities before awarding homeport status to Newport. The sharp exchange between Cantwell and Locke is troubling in the extreme, especially since Locke cited the Inspector General’s scathing report as a reason to continue with an unwise and costly mistake.
There seems little question NOAA erred. Despite calls from many, including the Seattle City Council, NOAA refused to reconsider lower-cost options to base the NOAA vessels at two local sites — one on the Duwamish River and one at NOAA's Sand Point installation. These properties are both federally owned.
The homeport decision-making process itself was mismanaged. There were so many problems, it is no wonder that Sen. Cantwell, along with Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, insisted on the inspector general’s review. Some of the most egregious aspects include:
- The NOAA fleet’s own commander urged reconsideration of the Duwamish site, pointing out that “it could save us and the taxpayer a lot of money.”
- Oregon appropriated $19.5 million to build a dock and offices for NOAA, in order to make Newport seem a cheaper alternative. Oregon taxpayers have been duped into subsidizing the boondoggle.
- Repair facilities and technical skills, readily accessed in Seattle, are not available in Newport.
- It has been revealed that Newport is located in a flood plain, a finding that, under NOAA’s own rules, should have eliminated the Newport proposal.
- The corrosive effect of saltwater on ships' hulls was not taken into consideration. Access to fresh water moorage in Seattle, which could double the life of the ships, should have been factored into cost estimates.
It seems unconscionable that, in these difficult fiscal times, NOAA is sticking with its flawed choice, particularly in light of the IG’s report that the process was botched. The report confirms the position that Seattle is the best place and even the most cost-effective for NOAA’s Pacific operations.
Taxpayers have a right to expect more from their leaders, particularly in these tough times. Government should not stand by flawed processes designed to allow decision-makers to play favorites. Government should not wantonly waste existing federal resources and dollars.
Thanks go to Senator Cantwell for keeping up the good fight. She represents the best in political leadership. The best value for taxpayers is keeping NOAA here.
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