- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

An employee at the U.S. Office of the Trustee — an arm of the Justice Department charged with overseeing the integrity of the bankruptcy system — spent up to five hours a day on the job looking at pornography, visiting more than 2,500 adult websites during 2011, investigators found.

The case was just one of more than a dozen investigations into computer misuse closed by the Justice Department’s office of inspector general from 2013 through early this year, according to records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

Federal prisons seemed to have particular problems. At a prison in Oakdale, Louisiana, 13 correctional officers were found to be scouring porn sites during work hours. Pornography also turned up on work computers at federal prisons in Oregon and Arkansas.

Yet porn peepers are rarely charged with time and attendance abuse, according to investigative memos on computer misuse from agencies across government. Prosecutors seem to pursue cases aggressively only when there is evidence of child pornography.

Agencies dole out discipline administratively in some cases, and the identities of the employees are shielded from public disclosure, records show.

Kevin Evans, a lawyer in Colorado, sued to try to pry loose the names of executives who embroiled the Securities and Exchange Commission in a porn scandal a few years ago, but a judge ruled that privacy interests prevailed.


SEE ALSO: Porn-surfing feds blame boredom, lack of work for misbehavior


“The courts are not willing to require the disclosure of names, and they assert the privacy exemption in the FOIA law, which I think has become toothless anyway,” he said Wednesday.

“Requiring disclosure of these cases would certainly put a dent in this kind of activity going forward,” he said.

Mr. Evans said that once he learned where the unidentified SEC employees were based, he contacted federal prosecutors in more than a half-dozen jurisdictions to alert them to the cases. He said he asked whether they intended to prosecute, but nobody got back to him.

Last year, a similar question confronted the Montana Supreme Court. The Billings Gazette newspaper sought the names of five city employees disciplined for looking at porn, but the state’s highest court said privacy interests trumped the public’s right to know.

The Justice Department’s inspector general redacted the names of the subjects in reports of computer misuse investigations released to The Washington Times, citing two exemptions in the open records law.

One exemption permits agencies to withhold documents that might result in an unwarranted invasion of privacy. The other permits withholding documents compiled for law enforcement purposes.

In the case of the Office of the Trustee, the investigation found numerous websites that promoted escorts and foreign brides, while the employee spent hours communicating with “advertisers” on various sites. The employee also bid for porn star memorabilia on eBay from his government computer.

Internet use logs found multiple days when the employee “spent the majority of his duty time viewing inappropriate websites,” investigators wrote in a case summary, estimating as many as five hours a day were wasted.

“The individual who was the subject of the redacted document no longer works for the U.S. Trustee Program,” spokeswoman Jane Limprecht said in an email Wednesday.

The case of the Trustee’s Office employee bears similarity to the highly publicized investigation into an Environmental Protection Agency employee whose porn viewing — which investigators said ranged from two to six hours a day — angered lawmakers this year.

“Fire him. What’s the question?” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, demanded of an EPA official at a hearing in June.

The employee remains with the EPA pending the outcome of an investigation, according to a report by Greenwire.

The Bureau of Prisons declined to discuss disciplinary actions against any of its employees caught looking at pornography, including the 13 correctional officers at the prison in Louisiana. A case memo said the officers had their computer access suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.

“Although we can’t address specific cases, I can tell you the Bureau of Prisons takes cases of staff misconduct very seriously,” spokesman Chris Burke said.

He said computer abuse incidents were isolated and that the bureau works with inspector general investigators to close cases quickly.

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