Their mission is to oversee and regulate the country's financial markets, but according to a shocking memo, employees of the Securities and Exchange Commission -- many of them high-ranking -- were surfing for pornography on the job, some for up to eight hours a day.
Also disturbing: it was happening as the SEC was grappling with the nation's financial meltdown.
The Associated Press has obtained a memo written by the SEC's inspector general, who conducted 33 probes of employees looking at explicit images in the past five years.
The memo says 31 of those probes occurred in the 2 1/2 years since the financial system teetered and nearly crashed. The staffers' behavior violated government-wide ethics rules, it says.
According to the document, a senior attorney at the SEC's Washington headquarters surfed and downloaded porn on the job for up to eight hours a day. When he ran out of space on his hard drive, the memo says he burned the material to CDs and DVDs and kept them in his office. The lawyer agreed to retire when confront by investigators.
In another case, computer filters blocked an SEC accountant from accessing pornographic websites 16,000 times in one month. The memo says he was able to get around the filter and amass a collection of explicit material while at work. He was suspended for 14 days.
Seventeen of the employees are said to be high level, earning more than $200,000 a year, and much of the conduct occurred while the SEC was grappling with the nation's economic crisis.
"It is nothing short of disturbing that high-ranking officials within the SEC were spending more time looking at pornography than taking action to help stave off the events that brought our nation's economy to the brink of collapse," said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). "This stunning report should make everyone question the wisdom of moving forward with plans to give regulators like the SEC even more widespread authority. Inexplicably, rather than exercise its existing regulatory enforcement authority, SEC officials were preoccupied with other distractions."
According to the AP, the memo was written by the Inspector General in response to a request from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa).
About 16 percent of men with Internet access at work admit to looking at online porn while at the office, according to a 2006 survey by Websense Inc.