Report ignored explicit images found on park official's computer

By Kimberly Kindy
Monday, October 19, 2009

The National Park Service says it is satisfied with the results of a year-long inspector general's investigation that found no criminal violations by John A. Latschar, the superintendent of one of the agency's most popular facilities, Gettysburg National Military Park.

It will not say, however, how it handled a violation of department policy that was documented in the course of the investigation -- Latschar's use of his office computer over a two-year period to search for and view more than 3,400 sexually explicit images.

An internal Aug. 7 memo from an investigator to Daniel N. Wenk, the acting director of the National Park Service, details the discovery of the images on the computer hard drive that was seized by investigators. But the office of Mary L. Kendall, acting inspector general for the Department of the Interior, omitted details of the computer probe or any mention of the violation from a 24-page report that was released Sept. 17.

"Latschar's inappropriate use of his government computer violates DOI policy," states the memo obtained by The Washington Post. The investigator forwarded the report to Wenk for "whatever actions you deem appropriate."

Wenk, through a spokesman, called the matter a "personnel issue" and would not comment on whether disciplinary action was taken.

Latschar also declined interview requests. He remains in his $145,000-a-year job.

The memo said that Latschar signed a sworn statement acknowledging "that he had viewed inappropriate pictures on his government computer during work hours" and that "he was aware of his wrongdoing while he was doing it."

The inappropriate use of office computers to view pornography has surfaced at other government agencies, including earlier this year at the National Science Foundation, where an inspector general's report led to several reprimands and the suspension of six employees. In one case, a "senior official" spent up to 20 percent of his working hours over a two-year period viewing the images, the report said.

Franklin Silbey, a former congressional investigator and Civil War preservationist, said the findings on Latschar are almost certain to inflame criticism of the superintendent, who is a popular and polarizing figure in the park system.

"People are aghast at their public findings. To learn, in addition, that they found this kind of unethical conduct and did not disclose it is inexcusable," he said.

The investigation was triggered by 17 allegations of ethical and criminal misconduct by Latschar -- largely in relation to his dealings with the Gettysburg Foundation, which operates a new visitors center and park that opened in spring 2008.

Latschar helped to create the private foundation and became well known in the park system for designing and promoting a public-private model that promised to infuse the cash-starved park with money it needed to build the new center.

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