Feds defy warnings over porn surfing; more get caught years after scandal

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When confronted with the charge that he had looked at pornography on his government computer 13,224 times during a 14-month span, one Bureau of Public Debt employee offered a novel excuse: He had too much time on his hands.

Co-workers were tipped off by “sexual sounds” and “moaning and panting” coming from the worker’s cubicle.

“He stated that he often does not have enough work to do and has free time,” an investigator summed up in a case memo obtained by The Washington Times.

Four years after a humiliating scandal involving porn-snooping employees at the Securities and Exchange Commission, which prompted a well-publicized federal lawsuit, some government workers still haven’t gotten the message, according to records that show continued offenses at Treasury Department agencies.

Of the 17 computer misuse investigations that the Treasury Department’s inspector general closed since 2012, five involved employees who searched for porn or perused dating sites on government time, according to records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The Bureau of Public Debt employee, whose name is redacted in records provided to The Times, apologized once he was caught.

“He stated that some days, he views this site for several minutes, but other days, he does not get on the site at all,” the investigator wrote after interviewing the employee. “It depends on his workload.”

It’s unclear what sort of punishment he faced.

Another worker who admitted viewing online dating sites at work — sometimes for hours a day — managed to hang on to his job. Investigators didn’t turn up any porn on that U.S. Mint employee’s computer, but they did find 5,406 visits to two online dating websites over one year, averaging out to two to three hours per day. The employee received a 45-day suspension, records show.

In his defense, the employee said he never “intentionally solicited pornography websites from his computer.”

Treasury Department officials declined to detail the punishments meted out to the offenders but said in a statement to The Times that the overwhelming majority of the department’s more than 100,000 employees “adhere to our strong ethics policy.”

“For the few who do not, punishment is prompt and decisive and includes dismissal or referral for criminal prosecution in the most egregious cases.”

Treasury is hardly the first agency to mete out discipline to porn-snooping employees. A far bigger scandal surfaced in 2010 at the Securities and Exchange Commission, where officials say they have enacted measures to detect illicit online activities.

After The Times first reported on redacted case memos showing more than two dozen SEC contractors and employees investigated for porn, a Colorado attorney took the agency to court to pry loose the names of the porn surfers, who included lawyers.

The attorney, Kevin Evans, wasn’t able to persuade a federal judge to release the names, however. In an interview Thursday, he said the judge ruled that a privacy exemption trumped disclosure, a ruling that he said sends the message that there won’t be any serious consequences.

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