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National Science Foundation not tough enough on porn, lawmakers charge

Lawmakers investigating porn-surfing at the National Science Foundation (NSF) say the agency hasn’t done enough to discipline the errant employees, and that their on-the-job activities "may be fostering an intimidating and offensive work environment."

Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) sent a letter detailing their concerns Monday to NSF Director Arden Bement and Steven Beering, chairman of the agency's science board. Mikulski heads up and Grassley is a ranking member of Senate committees that oversee the $6 billion NSF, whose inspector general (IG) Thomas Cross first revealed the pornographic exploits in a report last fall.

"The kind of behavior outlined in the inspector general's report is outrageous, repugnant and illegal," Mikulski said in a statement yesterday. "It won't be tolerated. The NSF must get its act together."

In January, the two senators asked Cross to hand over documents relating to his probe. In their recent letter, Grassley and Mikulski say they turned up cases of staffers viewing, storing or sharing porn, and of senior NSF employees engaging in sexual harassment by using agency money for amorous affairs with their subordinates.

The senators write that in five of 11 cases, the NSF either didn’t take action against the workers, failed to adequately alert the IG of action it took, or didn’t adopt his recommendations. "NSF's lack of action sends an unfortunate message to all NSF employees," they wrote.

The lawmakers, after sifting through the documents, say in their letter that they came across evidence of one employee who spent at least 20 percent of his time on the feds' clock viewing porn and chatting with live sex "performers" – and even had the audacity to complain to one site that he was having trouble connecting. "I am trying to learn how to use cam2cam capability on your asianbabes.com site," the NSF staffer wrote in an email to the site's customer service host, according to documents accompanying the senators' letter. "I do not seem to be able to do that."

Another employee who watched porn within earshot of his coworkers had not been disciplined as of January, Mikulski and Grassley wrote, adding that "the committees do not understand how or why NSF failed to take action."

"NSF is conducting a comprehensive review of this issue," Dana Topousis, an NSF spokesperson, told ScientificAmerican.com. "Agency employees involved were disciplined, resigned, or dismissed." Another agency rep, Jeff Nesbit, told the New York Times that the employee who was chatting with the "performers" was no longer at NSF.

National Science Foundation logo/Opertinicy via Wikimedia Commons

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