The managers of a federal fisheries fund that gets its money from Hawaii’s commercial tuna fishermen are the target of a forthcoming audit, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General.

The office announced this week that it will be determining if the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council properly handled grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Western Pacific Sustainable Fisheries Fund.

The fund was the subject of a three-part Civil Beat investigation, published in June, that raised questions about conflicts of interest, lax oversight and lack of transparency. It also found some of the projects paid for by the grants have been languishing.

Westpac Executive Director Kitty Simonds at YWCA meeting room.

The Office of Inspector General sent Wespac Executive Director Kitty Simonds a letter this week notifying her of the forthcoming audit of the fisheries fund.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

In September, U.S. Rep. Ed Case of Hawaii and three other congressmen on the House Natural Resources Committee asked the inspector general for a comprehensive audit of the millions of dollars that have flowed through the fund over the past several years.

Case said in a statement Friday that he appreciated the inspector general’s understanding of the seriousness of their concerns with Wespac’s handling of the fund and the need for an independent audit.

“I trust that Wespac will similarly understand the seriousness of this audit and of the Natural Resources Committee’s commitment to exercise full oversight over our fisheries management councils including Wespac, and will fully cooperate with the Inspector General’s review,” he said.

Wespac Executive Director Kitty Simonds and the council’s spokeswoman, Sylvia Spalding, did not return messages seeking comment for this story.

Specifically, the inspector general will be investigating if the council claimed allowable, allocable and reasonable costs under the grant awards and if it received the goods and services paid for by the grants.

The audit will also determine whether NOAA provided adequate oversight and monitoring.

The Wednesday letter to Simonds from Carol Rice, assistant inspector general, does not mention the request for an audit from members of Congress. It just says the fund was selected for an audit and that her office will be reaching out to Wespac to begin the process.

Read the full letter below.

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