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Potential for Employee Misuse of Internet Resources Exists

The potential for misuse of government-provided Internet access exists--just as it does for other types of government-provided resources. During our work, we became aware of reported instances of employee misuse of government-provided resources. However, our review was not intended to specifically identify or define employee misuse of Internet resources.

Department of Energy (DOE) guidance on appropriate use stated that nearly 100 employees of a national laboratory were disciplined for inappropriately using computers to access adult-oriented Internet sites. The guidance also stated that in another instance, nearly 30 percent of the activity on one particular Internet site included personal listings from DOE employees dealing with subjects such as scuba diving and boat racing. As a result of this use, DOE issued a memorandum to all DOE employees and contractors, which stated that use of government equipment and official duty time for nonwork-related activities is a violation of law and the standards of conduct. The DOE memo stated that several employees had been counseled, officially reprimanded, or had their employment terminated and that in one instance DOE had filed criminal charges against an employee.

The Air Force Audit Agency recently reported WWW site and BBS control problems. Specific problems included site operating procedures and approvals, making available inappropriate or unapproved information, and inadequate user access controls. As a result, the Air Force released additional guidance on establishing WWW sites and BBSs and set standards for the information that is made available through them.

An investigation by the Department of the Interior's Office of Inspector General (OIG) revealed that a Department employee provided private citizens with free access to Internet services through Department-operated networks. A personnel action was initiated against the employee that resulted in a letter of counseling. After the investigation, the OIG issued a memorandum to the heads of all components in the Department, which discussed the potential for abuse of Internet resources and cited the employee's use as an example. The OIG stated that abuse problems could be addressed by establishing and disseminating departmentwide policies. A Department official told us that a policy on the use of Internet resources by employees has been drafted and was undergoing management review and clearance.

NOAA reported that two employees were given 14-day suspensions for downloading sexually explicit material, and dismissal proceedings were initiated against one employee for sending threatening e-mail.

Officials at the three federal organizations at which we performed additional work told us that the detection of misuse of Internet access is primarily a supervisory responsibility. They told us that other than supervisory monitoring, they do not routinely or systematically monitor employee use of the Internet. Our review of the 28 federal organizations having guidance showed that at least 16 stated that employees' use of government-provided Internet resources may be monitored.


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