Lawmakers whomp on-the-job porn-watching, intern-chasing in bipartisan romp


A House committee on Wednesday easily approved legislation aimed at banning federal workers from watching pornography at work and protecting unpaid agency interns from sexual harassment.

Both measures – the Eliminating Pornography from Agencies Act and the Federal Intern Protection Act – passed in the House of Representatives last year, but died in the Senate.

Members of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee embraced the bills Wednesday, sending them back to the full House amid sharp debate about allowable union member activity and the relocation of federal agencies from the nation's capital.

"Somebody spending four to six hours a day looking at pornography – I don't even know how you do that – on taxpayers' dime is a bit much," said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the committee.

"I believe this is already prohibited, but at the same time it won't hurt to make it clear," Cummings said. "It's a real serious matter, because in the time employees should be doing work and are looking at this pornography, it means certain things aren't getting done."

Although watching porn on the job arguably already is an improper use of government resources, agencies have varying potential penalties at their disposal, including mere reprimands.

A February report by WRC-TV indicated nearly 100 federal workers had admitted to or been caught watching porn at work in a five-year period, based on documents the station acquired from various agencies. A worker at the Environmental Protection Agency admitted watching porn up to six hours a day for years, according to inspector general documents.

The House committee's Republican chairman, Jason Chaffetz of Utah, said he "can't imagine having to sit by a person who is doing these things on a regular basis."

"These are the seediest of the bad apples," Chaffetz said. "These people have got a serious problem and need desperate help."

Bill sponsor Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., noted the measure would require federal agency guidelines to be standardized.

"This one is a no-brainer," he said. "Watching pornography at work should be strictly prohibited and grounds for removal."

Even a lawmaker who felt the matter was relatively frivolous agreed to back the bill.

"I think we ought to focus on the integrity of our democratic elections," said Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass. "I do support the gentleman's motion, though."

The intern-protecting measure won equally easy backing. It would extend sexual-harassment protection to unpaid interns in federal agencies.

"I think interns were not always included because they weren't always ubiquitous," said Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Democratic delegate who represents the nation's capital. "We use them virtually as federal employees so we should treat them as federal employees."

Chaffetz said he didn't like the thought of young people "doing this unpaid work serving their nation only to have some predator do something nefarious to them," recalling a past report about an EPA employee inappropriately touching an EPA intern.

"We need to protect all the federal workers, especially those who are the youngest and most vulnerable," he said.

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