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Hastert Way Ahead of the Story

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Some lawmakers pay a lot of attention to their Web sites. Others less so. Up until just the other day -- sources say Monday -- House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert 's site was highlighting an Aug. 29 news release about how "Hastert Drives Effort to 'Keep Kids Safe in Cyberspace.' "

Seems Hastert had put together a meeting at a high school in his Illinois district featuring law enforcement officials, Internet experts and parents "to share information and insights on protecting children from Online predators."

"Recent news stories remind us that there are predators using the Internet to target children," Hastert is quoted as saying. "And just as we warn our children about 'stranger danger' when they are at the park or answering the door or telephone, we need to be aware of potential dangers in Cyberspace." And of even greater dangers in the House of Representatives.

But the lead news item on Hastert's home page now is about an effort by the Potawatomi tribe to run a bingo operation in Shabbona, Ill. The headline: "Hastert: Gaming in Shabbona a Long Way From Reality," in part because the tribe hasn't even gotten recognition from the federal government that the proposed site is a reservation.

At Interior, Surfin' USA

Speaking of sex -- the topic du jour in Washington -- the Interior Department's inspector general has uncovered an impressive amount of time spent by department employees surfing porn, game, gambling and shopping Web sites.

"Our review of one week of computer use logs revealed over 4,732 log entries relating to sexually explicit and gambling websites" by department computers, said IG Earl E. Devaney 's report -- titled "Excessive Indulgences."

"More alarming," the report said, "was our finding regarding access to on-line game and auction websites: we discovered over 1 million log entries where 7,763 department computer users spent over 2,004 hours accessing game and auction sites during that same week." In a year, "these veritable shopping and gaming binges could account for 104,221 hours of lost productivity," equaling the amount of yearly work time put in by 50 employees.

But it's likely worse, the report continued. "We believe that our estimates of inappropriate use activity are conservative, particularly the amount of time spent at pornographic and/or sexually explicit websites."

No doubt. And auction and shopping "binges" are nothing in August, when Devaney did his review, compared with what they'd be during the Christmas shopping season.

This Internet use costs taxpayers more than $2 million in lost wages, the report said. (Officials yesterday were not sure how the 80,000-employee department compared with other agencies.)

Department filters "provide some level of protection" but don't fully block the prohibited sites," the report said. In a "spot check" in August, "we were able to access sexually explicit photographs at several agencies in the department," including the National Park Service and other agencies that don't even have blocking software.

Devaney urged the department to plug the gaps in enforcement and improve blocking software. He also said a better job needs to be done to ensure violators are "held accountable for their actions."

Accountable? In Washington?

Predictions?

Foleygate could be a problem for Republican candidates on Nov. 7, possibly costing them seats. Loop Fans may want to take that into account when they submit their entries to the In the Loop Congressional Election Contest! Send your prediction of the number of R's and D's in the Senate and the House to intheloop@washpost.com . You must include your home, work or cellphone number. Entries must be submitted by midnight Oct. 10. The 10 participants closest to the results will receive a mention in the column and highly coveted "In the Loop" T-shirts.

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