The fuss over NOAA's move to Oregon may have quieted down, but Sen. Maria Cantwell says it isn't over, at least as far as she's concerned.
In an uncomfortable exchange with Commerce Secretary (and fellow Washington Democrat) Gary Locke last week, Cantwell hinted that Congress might hold up funds for the agency's move of a fleet of research ships from Seattle to Newport, Oregon. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is housed in Locke's department, but Cantwell's Senate subcommittee oversees its budget.
Cantwell criticized Locke for allowing NOAA to wrap up its own investigation of its own relocation process, while the Commerce Department's inspector general, Todd Zinser, still has serious questions about that process. In a letter (a pdf file) to NOAA made public by Cantwell's office, Zinser says the agency should have looked more seriously at sites the federal government already owns in Seattle, where NOAA's already housed.
The letter seems to say that NOAA never seriously considered splitting its research fleet between Federal Center South, 4735 East Marginal Way, and at an expanded port on Lake Washington, where NOAA's Western Regional headquarters will remain, no matter where the agency moves the fleet of research ships.
Cantwell's press office distributed a news release with video (below) and transcript of the Cantwell-Locke exchange. Locke responds to Cantwell's grilling with his own interpretation of Zinser's letter. In Locke's version, the inspector general pointed out the defects in NOAA's site selection process but said they weren't bad enough to overturn the Newport decision, and "that the award should have gone to the ultimate site."
Cantwell doesn't read it that way, telling Locke: "We've asked the inspector general if that is the case and they've said 'no,' so where are you getting that information?"
The Cantwell news release says that if the Newport project goes ahead "in the face of official warnings," the next step "would be for Congress to consider halting funding."
The NOAA discussion begins around the 1 minute, 50 second mark in the video.