Porn-surfing bureaucrats plague National Science Foundation

posted at 11:36 am on September 29, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

This must be part of the efficiency that Barack Obama hails in government-run programs, right?  The Washington Times says that porn surfing at the National Science Foundation got so bad and wasted so much time and money that the Inspector General had to postpone investigations into grant fraud to stop it.  They will probably have to do the same thing next year, too, before they can stamp it out entirely:

Employee misconduct investigations, often involving workers accessing pornography from their government computers, grew sixfold last year inside the taxpayer-funded foundation that doles out billions of dollars of scientific research grants, according to budget documents and other records obtained by The Washington Times.

The problems at the National Science Foundation (NSF) were so pervasive they swamped the agency’s inspector general and forced the internal watchdog to cut back on its primary mission of investigating grant fraud and recovering misspent tax dollars.

“To manage this dramatic increase without an increase in staff required us to significantly reduce our efforts to investigate grant fraud,” the inspector general recently told Congress in a budget request. “We anticipate a significant decline in investigative recoveries and prosecutions in coming years as a direct result.”

But …

He said the office’s 2010 budget request was written well in advance and that, at the time, “we were consumed with a lot of these cases.”

One senior NSF executive spent 331 days looking at porn from the office.  In case anyone’s counting, most people work no more than 250 days out of the year, as they have 104 Saturdays and Sundays off, plus holidays and vacation.  Either he spent a lot of weekend time at the office surfing the red-light districts of the Internet or he had been doing this for more than a year before getting caught.  The Times reports that his colleagues knew of his “proclivities,” but apparently declined to do anything about it.

He did offer an interesting defense once caught, though.  It turns out that he thought the NSF was a welfare program for young, attractive single women overseas:

When finally caught, the NSF official retired. He even offered, among other explanations, a humanitarian defense, suggesting that he frequented the porn sites to provide a living to the poor overseas women. Investigators put the cost to taxpayers of the senior official’s porn surfing at between $13,800 and about $58,000.

“He explained that these young women are from poor countries and need to make money to help their parents and this site helps them do that,” investigators wrote in a memo.

Er, okay … but even if that were the case, it’s the kind of activity one would pursue at home and not in the office at taxpayer expense.  Nor was it just the men.  One woman at NSF uploaded nude pictures of herself to her office computer.  When caught, she claimed she did it by accident.  She still has her job, although if one accepted her story at face value, we have to wonder how someone that foolish has a job in a science foundation — especially one that handles billions of dollars in federal grants.

The most important part of this story to remember is the year: 2008.  Most larger companies that have Internet access solved this problem years ago with good IT work.  The NSF employs 1200 people, and yet got caught by surprise by an epidemic of people surfing the web for porn during work hours.  This is what happens when government removes the profit motive; organizations get sloppy about productivity and effectiveness.


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