The U.S. House Oversight Committee has unanimously approved a bill to combat on-the-job pornography viewing by federal government employees.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), requires the U.S Office of Management and Budget to issue new guidelines prohibiting the viewing of porn on government computers. Meadows, in a formal markup of the legislation this week, cited the recent findings of the News-4 I-Team as reason to pass the legislation.
Last month, an investigation by the I-Team revealed that almost 100 federal government employees have admitted to or been caught viewing copious amounts of pornography while on the job in the past five years. Those employees were working for one of 12 major agencies from whom the I-Team requested records of misconduct under the Freedom of Information Act.
The cases include workers who admitted spending six hours a day surfing illicit images and videos and maintaining tens of thousands of adult images on their office desktops.
During debate over the new legislation, Rep. Meadows cited the I-Team’s findings that discipline for on-the-job pornography viewing varies by agency. In some cases, discipline ranged from as little as a reprimand.
"This is not only disturbing, but it creates an unhealthy work environment that must be addressed," Meadows said.
During the hearing on Meadows’ legislation, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said federal agencies already prohibit pornography viewing. But Cummings said he would not oppose Meadows bill, and expressed incredulity about the findings reported by the I-Team.
“Somebody looking at porn six hours a day -- I don't even know how you do that," Cummings said.
At the Environmental Protection Agency, inspector general memos showed at least two employees at the agency’s Washington, D.C., offices admitted viewing large quantities of pornographic material at their work spaces. In one case, the employee acknowledged watching porn for up to six hours a day for “several years.” In the second case, at the agency’s Office of Water, on Constitution Avenue, an employee was suspended for five days after being seen watching pornographic videos at a work terminal.
These cases are improper and constitute time fraud by workers whose salaries are funded by taxpayers, EPA Deputy Assistant Inspector General Craig Ulmer said.
“The computer systems were purchased to perform government work,” he said. “That’s classified as fraud, waste and abuse," he said. "They should be working on their EPA projects.”
At the Department of Commerce, internal investigators found a patent and trademark employee made 1,800 connections to pornographic websites. According to memos released by the agency’s inspector general’s office, the employee told investigators, “When I am working hard, I go to these images to take a mental break.”
An employee at the D.C. headquarters of the Federal Railroad Administration searched for porn for 252 hours in one year, the equivalent of 10 full work days, according to memos from the agency’s inspector general.
Representatives for the EPA, Department of Commerce and Department of Transportation told the I-Team computer misuse is prohibited and opens employees to possible disciplinary action, including termination.
The full U.S. House and U.S. Senate must approve the bill before it goes to President Donald Trump's desk. They have until Dec. 2018.