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Washington Times' FOIA Request on FCC Employees & On-the-job Web Porno Use

On July 31, The Washington Times, our capital’s right wing paper founded by the “Moonies”, had an unusual article entitled “Porn-surfing feds blame boredom, lack of work for misbehavior: Employees rarely face criminal prosecution for time and attendance fraud”. The article started with this:

For one Federal Communications Commission worker, his porn habit at work was easy to explain: Things were slow, he told investigators, so he perused it “out of boredom” — for up to eight hours each week.

Lack of work has emerged time and again in federal investigations, and it’s not just porn, nor is it confined to the FCC. Across government, employees caught wasting time at work say they simply didn’t have enough work to do, according to investigation records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

It went on to say

“A spokesman for the FCC declined to comment on what, if any, action the agency took after the FCC’s inspector general singled out the eight-hour-a-week porn peeper.”

So your conscientious blogger was curious to see what was the source of this information and the larger context. Sending an inquiry to FCC, I received the FOIA response that the Times had received within 3 days - great service!

However, as is typical at FCC it was more redacted than even CIA and NSA! Take a look at the document at left that was sent to the Times reporter with a cover letter signed by the FCC’s IG. Several observations:

  • It is really a package of 5 investigations from to July 2013 to March 2014. In one case no violations were found, in the other 4 violations were found.

  • Despite the excessive redactions, they were not done very carefully. For example on p. 5 of the pdf we find that the computers suspected to have been used for porno were located in “Room CY-C247 of the FCC’s Portals II facility”. We also learn that an FCC employee and a contractor were both suspects. This was a case where no violations were found! We also find out on p. 32-33 of the package that it involved the “HFDFADMIN2-HP workstation”. While this may mean little to the redactors, it is clear to your blogger that this means the HF/short wave monitoring system formerly operated by the Enforcement Bureau and its predecessors, but now operated by the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau with virtually no public information. This system is operated from a newly constructed building at the FCC’s Columbia MD property, behind the Laboratory and closer to the EB field office, that I don’t think was ever publicly announced even although it is the first new FCC owned building in several decades. (Oddly, the building is not on satellite photographs on Google and comparable sites.) It is amusing to note that the secretive activities of this PSHSB activity are done by people who have high security clearances but access porno while on the job! (Here is one of FCC’s few cryptic detailed public references to this HFDF system that is perhaps the most secretive part of FCC.)

  • While the FCC has a “Freedom of Information Act Electronic Reading Room” that says it contains “Records disclosed in response to a FOIA request that ‘the agency determines have become or are likely to become the subject of subsequent requests for substantially the same records.’ “ and one might think this package of document meet that description, in reality previously FOIA’d information is not there. May it is somewhere on the FCC’s chaotic site, but your blogger hasn’t found it. By comparison, CIA, NSA, and NRC make previous FOIA releases actually available!

  • FCC continues to have little interest in complying fully with the following provision of 5 USC 552(b): “ If technically feasible, the amount of the information deleted, and the exemption under which the deletion is made, shall be indicated at the place in the record where such deletion is made.” Thus there is no indication in this FOIA release of the justifications. While it is reasonable to think most of the redactions are reasonable, the statute appears to require that FCC give at least an exemption number for each or allege that some exemption number applies to all. There is no such indication in the released redacted document.

  • The NRC IG recently released a 32 page audit report reviewing that agency’s FOIA practices, finding some problems, and making constructive suggestions. We suspect many of these suggestions would apply also to FCC. In view of the fact that the FOIA release discussed here was managed by the FCC’s IG, signed by him and had problems as discussed above, we urge FCC to have an independent review of its FOIA practices. While the President’s 1/21/09 FOIA/Openness memo is not formally binding on FCC, one might think that it would have a high influence on at least the 3 Democrats at FCC.

  • IGs at other agencies under the same exact statutory charter as the FCC IG make periodic public reports on some of the investigations they have made of internal agency operations. FCC’s IG only issue the minimum required semiannual report and it does not discuss internal problems and possible improvements. The period of the 5 investigations covered in this FOIA release is covered by 2 semiannual reports : April 1, 2013 through September 30, 2013 and October 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014. While the first report (p. 23) cryptically alludes to a “separate investigations based on significant amounts of pornographic material”, there is never any discussion in either about the other investigation and findings. While the IG should not make his whole finding public for a variety of good reasons, his reporting on internal investigations is at best questionable.
Readers may say that you blogger is too hard on the FCC’s IG. Perhaps. But before you conclude that we suggest you read previous statements here that a credible IG at FCC would make FCC as a whole more credible. The 8th Floor may not want much oversight, but credible internal oversight could both improve internal operations as well as be a 1st line of defense in case of outside accusations of wrongdoing. For its 25 years of existence the FCC IG has taken the role of trying to shield the 8th Floor from criticism, that is not its statutory charter and that is why FCC never learns from the past.
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