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Note to Feds: Don’t Let Family Members Store Porn on Your Work Computer

Senior Commerce official had seven government computers at home.

An unnamed senior Commerce Department official failed to “set an example for the entire organization” by approving federal money to assemble an office coat rack, allowing family members to use government computers at home and submitting false travel and attendance reports, a watchdog found.

“The evidence revealed that Senior Official misused government computer equipment, including permitting members of her household to access and use such equipment, which resulted in inappropriate use of such equipment to view and/or store pornographic, sexually suggestive, and racially offensive materials,” said the report released Thursday by the Commerce inspector general.

For about six months in 2013-14, “Senior Official maintained no less than seven government-issued computer resources at her private residence, including two desktop computers, three laptop computers, and at least two iPad tablets, suggesting she was, at a minimum, indifferent to her obligation to conserve government property and resources.”

Investigators also faulted the official for failing to reject a staffer’s request to spend $75 to have an office coat rack assembled “at a time when spending is limited to mission critical requirements,” said the report on the investigation prompted by an anonymous whistleblower’s complaint from December 2013. A forensic computer review of the senior official’s travel expense submissions concluded that the official “selected a flight itinerary that benefitted her personally—permitting her to seek reimbursement from the government for expenses associated with her own personal, non-official travel plans—despite the fact she was presented with viable alternatives.”

The IG estimated that the government over-reimbursed her by $1,365, though it also concluded that the employee’s billing of $577 for lodging and taxis to be a presenter at an international conference did not constitute an improper expense.

In addition, the employee reported work hours that were inconsistent with building security records.  And finally, the IG expressed “serious concerns regarding Senior Official’s conduct during the course of the investigation,” which include failing to take reasonable steps to comply with the IG’s computer records preservation order. The report also cited “credible evidence that she may have engaged in prohibited whistleblower retaliation” against the staffer who ordered the coat rack.

“The OIG’s investigation revealed a troubling pattern of conduct that was abusive of government resources and evidenced a disregard for conservation of such resources, as well as misconduct by Senior Official in response to the OIG’s investigation.”

The watchdog recommended administrative action against the senior official, as well as better tracking of agency computer equipment and travel expenses.

In a statement to Government Executive, Commerce officials said “We take the allegations identified in the report seriously.  We concur with the OIG’s recommendations, including that the Department enhance its pertinent training and policies. While we cannot comment on specific personnel matters, we are in the process of evaluating all appropriate action.” 

(Image via Ahmet Misirligul/Shutterstock.com)