Former Wildlife and Fisheries secretary fires back after audit into department spending

Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The former head of Wildlife and Fisheries fired back Thursday in response to an audit that raised questions about controversial spending during his time leading the department, including during the aftermath of the BP oil spill.

"This is from my standpoint one of the worst cases of Monday morning quarterbacking I've ever seen," said Robert Barham, who appeared before a panel of state lawmakers. "We knew we had to do a good job, and we did a good job."

The legislative auditor's report, released in November, details spending practices in the department during Barham's time as secretary.

After the oil spill, the department received more than $10 million from BP to test the quality of the seafood. More than $3 million of that went to payroll and expenses for a scientific team in Venice, La. They bought boats and 225 rods and reels to catch fish for testing.

"Equates to 4.8 per rod and reel, so we really question whether the purchases were really well thought out," said Daryl Purpera, the state's legislative auditor.

All told, the team cost less than half of the fish they were supposed to, at a cost of nearly $2,796 per fish. "This money they were talking about; this is not a dime of Louisiana taxpayer money. This is BP money," Barham said.

Lawmakers on the panel overall did not deeply question the spending, saying it was worth it to help ease the public's concerns over tainted seafood. Barham himself was a former legislator. "To sit here and say things were not done exactly right and the money was not spent exactly right is, I think, a little off course for us," said Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales.

Still, other findings in the audit did cause concern for some on the panel. During Barham's tenure, the department bought a used airplane without getting it inspected first. Problems with the plane soon surfaced. It took more than a year to repair it, at a possible cost of more than $500,000.

"I think you have to account for these things," said Sen. Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge. "Did you keep a plane for two years, you could have spent another $300,000 and got a new one?"

A new secretary, Jack Montoucet, was installed at Wildlife and Fisheries earlier this year, making him the second new secretary in a year's time. Montoucet, a former state representative from Crowley, said reforms are needed.

"Some procedures were not clear. We're going to put the procedures and policies we need so the staff can do their jobs properly," Montoucet said. The full audit can be read below:

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