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, according to an investigation by the News4 I-Team.
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.
While only some of the cases revealed by the I-Team were criminal in nature, because they included viewing of pornographic images of underage teens, the I-Team investigation raised questions about whether the federal government has instituted sufficient penalties.
Using the Freedom of Information Act, the I-Team sought records of cases of egregious on-the-job pornography viewing at 12 major government agencies:
- Environmental Protection Agency
- U.S. Department of Transportation
- U.S. Department of Justice
- U.S. Department of the Interior
- U.S. Postal Service
- U.S. Department of Labor
- Export-Import Bank
- U.S. Department of Commerce
- Social Security Administration
- U.S. Department of Energy
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
The request was directed to agency inspectors general, the internal watchdogs who investigate larger scale misconduct and computer misuse. The records obtained and reviewed by the I-Team showed about 100 workers admitted surfing pornography while on the job. In many cases, the surfing consumed hours of an employee’s time each day.
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.
Spokespeople for the EPA, the Department of Commerce and the Department of Transportation told the I-Team computer misuse is prohibited and opens employees to possible disciplinary action, including termination.
But several agencies queried by the I-Team said penalties for computer misuse, including the viewing of pornography, are flexible and can include written reprimands.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of a U.S. House subcommittee overseeing federal employees and misconduct, said the I-Team’s findings reveal federal agencies should consider a zero-tolerance policy for pornography.
“That’s the thing your (I-Team) work has shown," Meadows said. "This is not just an isolated incident at one single agency. We’re starting to find it across almost every agency.”
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Jeff Piper.