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Defending the Spending of DWF

Sean Gardner
Former DWF Secretary Robert Barham showing oil residue months after BP spill

“This is – from my standpoint – one of the worst cases of Monday morning quarterbacking that I’ve ever seen,” former state Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham said Thursday.

Barham, who served as DWF Secretary throughout the Jindal administration, was on the defensive, responding to a legislative audit questioning several million dollars of the agency’s spending, primarily in the seafood testing program following the BP oil spill.

“This money that they’re talking about? This is not a dime of Louisiana taxpayers’ money. This is BP money,” Barham told the Legislative Audit Advisory Council.

“Did we make some purchases that are extraordinary and unusual? Absolutely we did. But BP was encouraging us to spend money so they could do an advertisement that they were concerned about what was going on in Louisiana. Could we have done a better job? Absolutely.”

State Senator Bodi White (R-Central) wasn’t convinced.

“I have to commend you, Secretary. That’s one of the best jobs, puttin’ it on everybody else,” White said, with an edge to his voice. “I mean, first you said that it was the auditor’s fault – it was the worst job you ever saw with Monday morning quarterbacking. Then you said it’s BP.”

Because lawmakers have been scrutinizing every penny of state spending, in light of the chronic budget shortfalls, Senator White also brought up the ballooning of DWF’s budget over the past decade.

“Do you deny your budgets went from $70-million to S179-million? Was that wrong, the numbers given?”

Barham clearly wondered why that issue was being raised.

“Wildlife and Fisheries is a totally self-generated agency,” he said. “They raise their own money. We don’t come to you for a dime. We don’t come get state money.”

State Representative Julie Stokes (R-Kenner) noted, “Wildlife and Fisheries is one-point-three times what it was in 2005, taking out inflation. And just as a point of contrast, because everybody’s always down on DHH, but the Department of Health and Hospitals is only up point-two.”

Returning to the topic of the audit, Senator White told Barham, “I don’t think you had intent. I don’t say that, okay? But I think there was some mismanagement at some point, and I’m saying it was yours.”

Barham, who had his attorney sitting behind him while he testified, replied, “If there’s someone and they have proof they stole something, put the cuffs on ‘em.”