Porn provision stalls House IT bill

House rebels against reauthorization of technology booster bill

A move to punish federal employees who access pornography at work has helped derail a bill that would increase funding for technology, innovation and science education.

Democratic sponsors of the America Competes Reauthorization Act pulled the bill from the House Floor May 13 after the House approved a Republican motion to recommit. Passage of the recommit motion sent the bill back to House committees with requirements to make specific changes, including adding a provision that no federal funding could be used to pay the salaries of federal employees disciplined for accessing pornography from government computers. The motion also directs lawmakers to reduce funds for Energy Department research and other programs.

The legislation, which would reauthorize for five years the America Competes Act of 2007, would increase funding for science, technology, engineering and math education, along with research and development programs at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Science Foundation and Energy’s Office of Science.

Rep. Bart Gordon ( D-Tenn.), chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, said, “I’m disappointed that politics trumped good policy We’re all opposed to federal employees watching pornography. That is not a question; but that’s not what this was about. The motion to recommit was about gutting funding for our science agencies.”

Gordon said he hopes the bill can be brought to the House floor again, but timing is “unclear.”

Democrats accused Republicans of playing politics with the bill, while Republicans defended the motion and pointed to evidence, including reports from National Science Foundation's Office of Inspector General, indicating that several NSF employees were disciplined for watching porn at work.

The NSF’s Inspector General, in a semiannual report to Congress in 2008, noted at least seven cases in which NSF employees were penalized for accessing pornography on government computers.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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