Associated Press

This post has been updated

A high-ranking official at the Commerce Department took at least seven government computers home, an IT smorgasbord from iPads to Dell desktops that she rarely used for work. And if that wasn’t enough, she allowed her kids to download pornography and “racially offensive materials,” an investigation found.

When investigators started asking questions, they said, she tampered with evidence by erasing the offending material on some of the computers — and in retaliation moved to discipline a woman on her staff who cooperated with the probe.

This accumulation of misdeeds described by the Commerce Department watchdog in an investigative report released last week also included a layover in Paris en route to a European conference, partly funded by taxpayers. The official told colleagues her primary reason for going to the conference was to shop, the report said.

[READ: He billed the government for four months of work he never did — and his teleworking boss never noticed]

Investigators said they also found a suspicious pattern of inconsistencies in when the official said she was working and what the swipe records on her security badge showed, including one day when she said she was on the clock for eight hours — but really worked just 20 minutes.

“The evidence revealed that [the official] engaged in a troubling pattern of conduct exhibiting a disregard for and abuse of government resources,” said the report by acting inspector general David Smith.

The woman, described in the report as a senior official, was the executive officer in a Commerce office that provides administrative support to a division at Commerce. Her roles there included financial management, human resources, information technology, property and office space. She also acted as the authorizing official for other offices, reviewing task orders, spending and travel requests and personnel actions and supervising “multiple employees,” investigators wrote.

For privacy reasons, the report does not name her or her position. In a statement, Commerce spokeswoman Areaka Foye-McFadden said, “we take the allegations identified in the report seriously. We concur with the [inspector general’s] recommendations, including that the Department enhance its pertinent training and policies.”

The statement doesn’t say whether the employee, a GS-15 on the federal pay scale, faces misconduct charges. She now works in another job at Commerce. “We are in the process of evaluating all appropriate action,” Foye-McFadden wrote.


The report says the official kept two government-issued Dell desktops, three Sony Vaio laptops and two iPads at her home for at least six months and gave her kids access to the computers. They downloaded and stored “pornographic, sexually suggestive, and racially offensive materials” on some of them. Also on the computers were thousands of personal photographs and videos, software for computer gaming and other material that had nothing to do with the official’s government job.

Her “accumulation of these devices was excessive and likely resulted in waste of government resources that could have been otherwise deployed, which constituted an abuse of this privilege,” the report said, describing how the official’s “household treated her government-issued desktop computers as household property.” She apparently did not need a supervisor’s approval to take so many computers home.

The official told investigators that she saw nothing wrong with letting her kids watch porn on the computers, because they weren’t doing it during work hours or harming national security.

“ [She] stated that accessing such a site would be inappropriate either during work time or when it poses a security risk, but that otherwise she ‘would not feel like [she was] doing anything inappropriate based on what [she] know[s] about the policy is for — government equipment and the use — and the use of it,’” the inspector general’s office wrote.

When investigators took the computers, they discovered that one of the iPads had been locked and remotely erased.

When the official was invited to speak at a conference in Europe last year, she told co-workers that “her primary motivation for her government travel was to go shopping,” the report said.

She chose a flight that was longer and more expensive than other available routes so she could partially charge the government for a layover in Paris, investigators found. Her reimbursement for expenses “associated with her own personal, non-official travel plans” cost taxpayers about $1,365.

The watchdog also said the official was invited to the conference in part because organizers wanted to curry favor with her, since her office was responsible for approving their expenses, particularly travel.

Investigators also found a pattern of discrepancies in the official’s time and attendance records. What she wrote as her starting and leaving times showed longer hours than the actual times recorded when she swiped her security badge.

While investigators said they did not “conclusively establish” fraud, the discrepancies’ “regularity” and the official’s “demonstrated pattern of disregard for proper utilization and conservation of government resources” were troubling.

The last alleged impropriety was the official’s attempt to retaliate against a woman on her staff who had cooperated with the investigation. The official proposed suspending the employee, writing as justification that she “failed to follow instructions . . . from the point of midyear review on several occasions through . . . the beginning of the fiscal year,” the report said.

The official e-mailed a senior lawyer at Commerce, describing her employee this way: “Her behavior is out of control and she often does things despite my telling her not to.” Exhibit A was the employee’s decision to use $75 in office funds to have a coat rack assembled “at a time when spending is limited to mission critical requirements,” the official wrote.

Investigators found a different scenario at play: “It was likely Senior Official had a strong motive and desire to retaliate against Staff Member A. “