Some consultants at the Department of Energy's data processing center in Germantown misused government computers by programming them for football pools, school homework and Star Trek, hangman and blackjack games, according to an internal investigation.
The department's inspector general's office, in a check of 128 computer users, found 20 were misusing their equipment. Electronic games and pictures were stored in the data banks of 15 persons. Three users were discovered to have programmed football pools into their machines, and two other persons were caught with personal schoolwork in their memory space.
The inspector general's report on the abuses was disputed in several areas by the director of administration for the agency and by the manager of the Germantown facility, who also pointed out that only two of the 20 cases cited for inappropriate use of computers were considered serious enough to warrant discipline.
Investigators selectively sampled the data banks kept by 128 of the 740 persons with authorized access to the computer. All of the machines checked were assigned to employes of two major contracting firms hired by DOE to help program the computers. The investigation was conducted between Oct. 1 and Dec. 15 of last year.
While cautioning that it could not estimate the extent of computer misuse in the department or place a dollar value on the abuse, the inspector general's office suggested that the inappropriate use of the computer equipment had forced the agency to lease time on commercially owned computers in order to get its work done.
Such leasing arrangements, depending on the speed and capability of the computers, can cost $200 to $500 an hour according to a computer expert familiar with private computer rental terms.
The inspector general's comments were hotly challenged by agency officials. In a separate memorandum included in the final report, William S. Heffelfinger, DOE's director of administration, said some of the report's statements were "very misleading" and in some cases inaccurate.
The report, Heffelfinger complained, "leads one to believe that misuse is running rampant and consuming large amounts of resources." In fact, he said, the unauthorized material had consumed less than one percent of the data bank space examined and had since been erased from the system.
Heffelfinger declined to comment any further on the report's findings or discuss the nature of the disciplinary action. At the Germantown facility, John W. Polk, director of the office that manages the Montgomery County computer site, said only two persons -- described as those guilty of "flagrant misuse" -- were disciplined. Neither was fired, he said.
He also said that the agency had decided to lease commercial computer time because so many people were using the DOE system for legitimate purposes, not for making up games.
Polk further argued that the material found in the computers "is not what I would call games. They were programs used in training people in computer operations, and the inspector general's office just assumed they were unauthorized."
The inspector general's report did not identify the games found in the system, but a spokesman for the office, disputing Polk's assessment, said the computers had been programmed to play Star Trek, hangman and blackjack.
A spokesman for the agency said yesterday the Germantown facility had not had any official authorization to use such games as instructional material. Subsequent to the investigation, however, a directive was issued allowing their use for training purposes only.
The inspector general's office, citing departmental policy, declined to identify the two private consulting firms referred to in its audit. But its report said the existence of storage discs with games and football pools on them represented a misuse of government property for personal purposes, indicated that the money DOE paid its contractors may not have been fully spent for the benefit of the government and suggested there were insufficient safeguards at Germantown to protect the system from improper use.
After the results of the investigation became known to the agency, DOE circulated a memo to all programmers forbidding them to use the machines for such non-government functions as club membership lists, calendars, outside business or personal data, mortgage amortization and compound interest programs, poetry, jokes, resumes, personal letters or noninstructional games.