Is a Law Needed to Prevent Federal Employees From Watching Pornography at Work?

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By on February 27, 2017 in Human Resources with 0 Comments
Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC)

Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC)

Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC) has introduced legislation several times during his tenure in Congress to prohibit federal employees from watching pornography on their work computers.

Meadows has introduced the legislation in previous sessions of Congress as well as in the current Congress. Meadows says that despite rules being in place at many agencies to ban the practice, it continues to take place, hence the need for the bill.

“It’s appalling that it requires an act of Congress to ensure that federal agencies block access to these sites,” Meadows said. “There is absolutely no excuse for federal employees to be viewing and downloading pornographic materials on the taxpayers’ dime.”

Some FedSmith.com users have commented on this legislation and said it isn’t necessary since IT departments at agencies block inappropriate websites. Others have said supervisors should just take action and discipline or fire the offenders.

Apparently it may not be quite so simple.

A recent investigation by a local news team in the Washington, DC area would seem to confirm that the problem is more widespread.

The News4 I-Team found that almost 100 federal employees across numerous agencies either admitted to or were caught viewing pornography at work over the past five years. In some cases, it was even criminal in nature since it involved child pornography.

The news team reviewed data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and found instances at numerous agencies including the Postal Service, Departments of Justice, Transportation and Interior, and the Social Security Administration, among others.

One employee spent 252 hours out of a year searching for porn online, the equivalent of 10 full work days.

One would think that a federal employee would be fired almost immediately for watching porn at work, however, the I-Team said in their news report that penalties at agencies vary. Some agencies institute disciplinary action that could include termination while others may only issue written reprimands.

Meadows took note of the news report and said it was evidence that his bill was needed since the problem was taking place at numerous agencies.

The full news report is available on the nbcwashington.com website.

Porn and Agency Appropriations

Several lawmakers also addressed the problem last year when it came up in an appropriations bill.

Six Congressmen sent a letter last year to the House Appropriations Committee raising concerns they had about a statement in an appropriations bill that was signed into law. The statement read, “None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to maintain or establish a computer network unless such network blocks the viewing, downloading and exchanging of pornography.”

However, the Congressmen pointed out that it only applied to certain agencies. They said that viewing pornography at work shouldn’t be allowed at any federal agency.

“Unless necessary as part of a criminal investigation, prosecution or adjudication, federal employees should not be able to view, download or exchange pornography on the taxpayers’ dime,” wrote the Congressmen in their letter. They added that the language should be applied to all agencies in future appropriations bills.

What’s the Answer?

Given that the problem is not unique to only one or two agencies and that disciplinary procedures seem to vary, is legislation along the lines of what Meadows has proposed necessary, or is it a step too far? Feel free to weigh in in the comments below.

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About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce.

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