Senate reins in NOAA after questions on oyster money

April 26, 2007|By Matthew Hay Brown | Matthew Hay Brown,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The Senate voted yesterday to tighten federal oversight of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration after a report in The Sun raised questions about spending on a program to restore oysters to the Chesapeake Bay.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the Maryland Democrat who has placed the earmark that funds the Oyster Recovery Partnership in the federal budget in each of the past several years, was among those who voted for greater oversight.

Democratic Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland also supported the measure, which was approved by an 82-14 vote.

The Sun reported this month that most of the nearly 1 billion hatchery-raised oysters planted by the nonprofit partnership since 2000 have been placed where they can be harvested by watermen and sold.

The partnership is giving the Maryland Waterman's Association nearly $400,000 this year to move diseased oysters from one part of the bay to another, The Sun reported.

The newspaper also found that the partnership spent $46,000 in federal funds on a dinner at a Cambridge resort.

The oversight proposal approved yesterday was written by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma as an amendment to a science, technology and education spending bill that the Senate also approved yesterday.

It would require the inspector general of the Department of Commerce to independently review activities funded by NOAA and would also prohibit funds from being used to pay for banquets and conferences, other than conferences related to training or routine meetings with NOAA officers.

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

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