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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Key figures on Oversight and Government Reform Committee
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Key figures on Oversight and Government Reform Committee
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 29: Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and ranking member Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, conduct a House Oversight and Reform Committee business meeting in Rayburn Building on Tuesday, January 29, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., Chairman of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 29: Ranking member Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, right, and Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., are seen during a House Oversight and Reform Committee business meeting in Rayburn Building on Tuesday, January 29, 2019. (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)
UNITED STATES Ð MAY 10: Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., listens during the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on 'The Future of Capital Formation' on Tuesday, May 10, 2011, at the US Capitol. (Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call)
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), speaks to reporters, after U.S. President Donald Trump's second State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 29: Rep. Katie Hill, D-Calif., arrives for a House Oversight and Reform Committee business meeting in Rayburn Building on Tuesday, January 29, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC, UNITED STATES - 2018/12/12: US Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) at the American Zionist Movement / AZM Washington Forum: Renewing the Bipartisan Commitment Standing with Israel and Zionism in the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, DC. (Photo by Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 07: U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) (C) during a news conference in front of the U.S. Capitol February 7, 2019 in Washington, DC. Sen. Markey and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez held a news conference to unveil their Green New Deal resolution. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Representative Mark Meadows, a Republican from North Carolina, speaks to members of the media following James Comey, former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), not pictured, testifying before the House Judiciary and House Oversight and Government Reform Committees joint investigation in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. Comey said he'll return for a second meeting with House lawmakers after a day of closed-door questioning that he said was related mostly to Hillary Clinton's emails. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images
US Representative Rashida Tlaib, Democrat of Michigan, speaks during a press conference calling on Congress to cut funding for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and to defund border detention facilities, outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, February 7, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
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UNITED STATES - JANUARY 29: Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., attends a House Oversight and Reform Committee business meeting in Rayburn Building on Tuesday, January 29, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
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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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