CIOs: A little personal Internet use is OK

Federal managers should allow employees to access the Internet at work for a limited amount of personal use, a draft guide for agencies suggests.

The Chief Information Officers Council, a government-wide committee of senior technology executives, drafted the new policy guidance. The guidance is pending final approval from the council. It recommends that federal employees be permitted to use the World Wide Web for some personal use, much as agencies let employees use telephones to make a reasonable amount of personal calls.

The proposed policy "recognizes [federal] employees as responsible individuals who are the key to making government more responsive to citizens. It allows employees to use government office equipment for non-government purposes when such use involves minimal additional expense to the government, is performed on the employee's non-work time, does not interfere with the mission or operations of a department or agency and does not violate the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch."

Examples of acceptable personal use of the Internet listed in the guidance include checking Thrift Savings Plan or other personal investments, seeking employment, and communicating with a volunteer charity organization. Inappropriate personal use would include viewing sexually explicit material, using the Internet to support a for-profit business, engaging in fund-raising, or downloading large video, sound or other files that affect the performance of an agency's network. "Push" technology services, which send news and information directly to users' computers, are listed as an example of an inappropriate use because they degrade network performance.

The policy essentially tells managers not to be draconian about personal Internet use, but encourages employees not to let personal business interfere with their work.

"Executive branch employees should be provided with a professional supportive work environment," the policy suggests. "They should be given the tools needed to effectively carry out their assigned responsibilities. Allowing limited personal use of these tools helps enhance the quality of the workplace and helps the government to retain highly qualified and skilled workers."

Agencies are free to develop their own personal use policies for government equipment. The council's proposed guidance only offers suggestions for rules managers may want to use.

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