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Report says 33 SEC staff members viewed pornography at work

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 24, 2010; A03

Dozens of Securities and Exchange Commission staff members used government computers in the past five years to access and download pornographic images, according to a summary prepared by the agency's watchdog.

Most of the reported incidents have occurred in the 2 1/2 years since the global financial meltdown began, according to the SEC's inspector general.

According to a summary requested by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), SEC Inspector General H. David Kotz investigated 33 employees and contractors for illegal computer usage. The agency has around 3,800 staffers.

Three incidents were reported this year. Ten occurred in 2009, 16 in 2008, two in 2007 and one each in 2006 and 2005.

The discovery of an employee surfing the Internet for porn is nothing new, whether in a federal agency or a private entity. But the SEC revelations sparked a broader question about how well federal agencies block such activity.

The General Services Administration said Friday that each federal agency is responsible for setting an Internet usage policy.

The SEC uses Blue Coat Secure Web Gateway software and McAfee SmartFilter to block inappropriate Web sites, agency spokesman John Nester said. In some cases, workers apparently evaded the blocking software, he said.

Each instance of inappropriate computer use was detected by the SEC's office of information technology and referred to the inspector general, Nester said. Kotz became SEC watchdog in December 2007.

All the employees have been disciplined or are facing discipline. Most of the employees in the cases earned $99,356 to $222,418 a year, which is the compensation range for 70 percent of SEC staff members, the agency said.

"We will not tolerate the transgressions of the very few who bring discredit to their thousands of hardworking colleagues," Nester said.

Grassley released the SEC watchdog summary less than a week after the agency announced its decision to file fraud charges against Goldman Sachs and amid reports that two Republican commission members sharply questioned senior investigators about their evidence.

Senate Democrats are also poised to move forward Monday on a bill calling for overhauling the U.S. financial regulatory system.

A spokeswoman for Grassley said Friday there was no political motivation behind the timing of the release.

"The IG findings that Grassley released underscore the importance of good IG work," Jill Kozeny said.

In one SEC case, a regional office staff accountant admitted to viewing pornography on his office computer and on his SEC-issued laptop while on official government travel. Another staff accountant received nearly 1,800 access denials for pornographic sites in a two-week period and had more than 600 images saved on her laptop's hard drive.

The computer of a senior attorney at SEC headquarters in Washington ran out of space for downloaded images, so he started burning them onto CDs and DVDs that he stored in his office. The attorney said he sometimes spent as much as eight hours a day viewing pornography on his office computer, the report said.

Internet visitors who used work computers to access adult Web sites spent an average of about 13 minutes on such sites in March, according to the Nielsen Company, which tracks Internet traffic.

As in private industry, cases have emerged in other federal offices. The Government Printing Office upgraded its Internet security software in 2007 after an agency employee admitted to accessing Web sites with child pornography, a spokesman said. The worker, an IT specialist, was fired after viewing the material on two GPO computers.

John A. Latschar, who oversaw the National Park Service's Gettysburg National Military Park, was reassigned in October after an investigation found he used his office computer over a two-year period to search for and view more than 3,400 sexually explicit images.

According to reports by the U.S. Postal Service's inspector general, in 2007 a former West Virginia postmaster was sentenced to 70 months in federal prison and 10 years of supervised release for possessing child pornography. He was ordered to pay more than $13,500 in restitution to the Postal Service for converting money orders to his own use.

A Kentucky postal worker was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in jail in 2006 for using a Postal Service computer to visit child pornography Web sites.

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