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.

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Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Jason Chaffetz (R-CA) holds an EpiPen during the committee hearing on the Rising Price of EpiPens at the Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 21, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) holds an EpiPen during the committee hearing on the Rising Price of EpiPens at the Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 21, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
UNITED STATES - MAY 7: Rep. John 'Jimmy' Duncan, R-Tenn., participates in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's Economic Growth, Job Creation, and Regulatory Affairs Subcommittee and House Judiciary Committee's Constitution and Civil Justice Subcommittee joint hearing on 'The DOJ's Quid Pro Quo with St. Paul: A Whistleblower's Perspective' on Tuesday, May 7, 2013. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 24: Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., gavels in a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in Rayburn titled 'The Ebola Crisis: Coordination of a Multi-Agency Response,' October 24, 2014. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 17: The House Oversight and Government Reform's Economic Growth, Job Creation, and Regulatory Affairs Subcommittee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) (L) questions Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen during a hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill September 17, 2014 in Washington, DC. The Oversight and Government Reform Committee continues to investigate the IRS for targeting political groups applying for tax-exempt status for intensive scrutiny based on their names or political themes. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 29: Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, questions Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in Rayburn Building on whether PPFA should be federally funded, September 29, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 30: Carolyn Maloney, D-NY., during the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Democrats hold a forum on 'Law Enforcement Tools to Stop the Flood of Illegal Weapons' on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. (Photo By Douglas Graham/Roll Call)
Representative Darrell Issa, a Republican from California, center, chairs a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on a complaint made against Boeing Co. by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), in North Charleston, South Carolina, U.S., on Friday, June 17, 2011. Representative Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York, second from left, listens to witness statements along with Issa. The U.S. lawyer who filed the complaint over a nonunion plant the aerospace company opened in South Carolina said he regrets the fear the dispute has caused workers there about their jobs. Photographer: Stephen Morton/Bloomberg via Getty Images
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 13: From left, Reps. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., Lacy Clay, D-Mo., and Danny Davis, D-Ill., confer during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the problems with the rollout of healthcare.gov. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 17: The House Oversight and Government Reform's Economic Growth, Job Creation, and Regulatory Affairs Subcommittee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) (C) and ranking member Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) (L) hear testimony from Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen during a hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill September 17, 2014 in Washington, DC. The Oversight and Government Reform Committee continues to investigate the IRS for targeting political groups applying for tax-exempt status for intensive scrutiny based on their names or political themes. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 7: Rep. Matthew Cartwright, D-Pa., participates in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's Economic Growth, Job Creation, and Regulatory Affairs Subcommittee and House Judiciary Committee's Constitution and Civil Justice Subcommittee joint hearing on 'The DOJ's Quid Pro Quo with St. Paul: A Whistleblower's Perspective' on Tuesday, May 7, 2013. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Representative Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland, left, holds Mylan NV EpiPen medication while making an opening statement next to Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016. Lawmakers are questioning Mylan's chief executive officer about how the company raised the price of the life-saving injection to $600 for a two-pack, from $57 a shot when it took over sales of the product in 2007. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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"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.

Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report

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