Feds almost pay a price for porn

Kelly Martin /Govexec.com
House Democrats pulled an $85 billion technology bill on Thursday after Republicans attached an unrelated provision that would have prevented agencies from paying the salaries of government employees caught watching pornography on the job.

The 2010 America COMPETES Reauthorization Act would have provided significant federal investments in science research, training and education. But the bill got sidetracked when House Republicans employed a parliamentary measure that allows the minority party one opportunity to amend legislation before a final vote.

The Republicans' motion to recommit would have sent the legislation back to the House Science and Technology Committee with language prohibiting agencies from using federal funds to pay employees "officially disciplined for violations regarding the viewing, downloading or exchanging of pornography, including child pornography, on a federal computer or while performing official government duties."

The GOP changes also attempted to cut all new programs in the bill and freeze spending for existing programs at current levels.

Recent investigations by the inspector general of the National Science Foundation -- which would have seen its funding for general research double through the bill -- found instances of executives surfing porn on their government-issued computers.

Last month, the Securities and Exchange Commission IG reported that 28 employees and five contractors had been investigated for looking at explicit images at work during the past five years. While some of the federal employees resigned or received suspensions or formal reprimands, none was fired.

Faced with the prospect of voting against an anti-pornography amendment during an election year, dozens of Democrats changed their vote, choosing to support the Republican measure, which then passed 292-126.

The tactic enraged Democrats, who charged Republicans with obstructionism.

"So I guess we need this little bitty provision that means nothing," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn. "That's going to gut the entire bill. This is an embarrassment."

Following the procedural vote, Democrats pulled the entire bill from consideration, citing the Republican additions. Lawmakers intend to bring the measure back to the floor next week, but it's not clear how they will address the anti-pornography language.

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