- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2002

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has fired 17 workers who spent several hours a day surfing Internet porn sites.
In addition, eight temporary workers have been fired for spending too much time viewing sites such as ESPN, AOL and EBay that were not related to work.
"VDOT's current policy prohibits any non-work-related use of the Internet, and sexually pornographic conduct is not considered a matter of the state," VDOT Commissioner Philip A. Shucet said yesterday.
The positions of the 25 fired workers will not be refilled. Mr. Shucet said that their positions are not necessary if they could spend so much time surfing non-work-related sites.
VDOT conducted an internal audit, monitoring all workers' computers during the week of April 8. As a result of the audit, 17 workers were told last week they would be terminated for viewing sexually explicit sites for an excessive amount of time.
"[The auditors] stopped counting after two hours of repeated use on a daily basis," said VDOT spokeswoman Tamara Neale.
"I won't tolerate it and neither should you," Mr. Shucet said in a letter to all employees last week. "We are accountable to the taxpayers of Virginia. We cannot violate their trust in us."
Mr. Shucet said the audit was conducted because his office had been contacted about an employee improperly using a computer. That employee resigned before the audit began, but the agency decided to continue the audit anyway.
During the audit, it was determined there was an unusually high volume of traffic on 93 sites. Mr. Shucet said all of the offenders were men and were in managerial, midlevel and administrative positions.
State Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore was notified of the violations.
"We are investigating whether any of these [visited sites] included child pornography or fraud. [For now] we advised VDOT to handle it administratively," said Timothy Murtaugh, press secretary for Mr. Kilgore.
VDOT employs 10,200 workers and has an annual budget of about $3.4 billion.
Mr. Shucet could not provide a specific figure about how much money would be saved as a result of the disciplinary action.
Ms. Neale estimated the figure to be "hundreds of thousands of dollars," but said that was an estimate based on the salaries and benefits of those who were fired.
In addition to the 25 fired employees, VDOT reprimanded 61 other employees for inappropriate use of the Internet. Those employees were suspended for two weeks without pay for spending an excessive amount of time on the Internet viewing non-work-related sites that were not offensive.
VDOT workers are reminded every time they log in that their use of state-owned computers is monitored and that they are limited in the sites they can access.
A firewall is supposed to tell employees if they access a site deemed inappropriate for work, but Ms. Neale said that system does not always work.
"Such monitoring is fully within our rights and is clearly stated on the policy page when you log onto the Internet," Mr. Shucet said in his letter. "We simply cannot allow any employee to abuse state time and resources. To tolerate abuse during times when state employees are facing layoffs is unthinkable."
In 1996, Virginia passed a state law barring more than 100,000 state workers, including professors, librarians and researchers at state-supported colleges and universities, from viewing sexually explicit material on office computers.
The law was challenged and upheld when the U.S. Supreme Court let stay an 8-4 decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appealsaffirming the law last year.


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