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A Touching Tale
Assigned no work, federal employees entertain themselves with online pornography.


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Kevin D. Williamson

So that’s what the economists at Treasury mean by “priming the pump”?

Behind closed doors, in private offices off Washington’s corridors of power, there are a lot of mouses getting double-clicked, if you know what I mean. At the Environmental Protection Agency, a senior official spent so much time watching pornography while on the federal clock that the Office of the Inspector General dispatched a special agent to look into it — and the official continued watching porn while the OIG agent was in his office. At the Federal Communications Commission — which, among other things, polices pornography — employees routinely spend the equivalent of a full workday each week watching porn. At the General Services Administration — which, like the FCC, has a lot of fingers in a lot of pies, being charged with minimizing federal operating costs — employees spend up to six hours a day watching porn on the taxpayers’ dime. At Commerce, paralegals were paid upward of $4 million to do no work — any guesses how they filled their days?

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It’s a lucky thing that federal employees have such good insurance plans when it comes to workplace-related troubles such as repetitive-stress injuries: One especially heroic employee at Treasury viewed more than 13,000 pieces of pornography in the space of a few weeks, surely setting some kind of gherkin-goosing record in the process. I assume he told his superiors he was busy debugging his hard drive.

If war is politics by other means, as Clausewitz insisted, then administration is a tug of war.

A very lonely tug of war.

It is not just pornography. Federal employees fill their days with online shopping, watching television, trolling dating sites in the hopes of having a relationship with someone other than themselves and the nice webcam ladies at Smut.com . . .

The problem, as Jim McElhatton of the Washington Times writes in his hilariously deadpan report on the situation, is boredom. The only thing worse than a government shutdown, during which the capital’s hives of bureaucrats do nothing, is a fully functioning government, during which the capital’s hives of bureaucrats do nothing, apparently, except spend a great deal of time arguing with Henry Longfellow.

At Commerce, those paralegals filled their days with recreational activities because they were assigned no work. And why were they assigned no work? Because, as Mr. McElhatton writes, their superiors did not want to “antagonize the labor union” by requiring them to do work in exchange for their paychecks. If you have any experience with public-sector unions, that is slightly less ridiculous than it sounds: Asking them to do work is the only thing that antagonizes them more than the threat of being paid market wages.

Hearings are being held, reports are being issued, and various congressmen will do their best impersonations of Yoko Ono wailing about all this. They know what makes a scandal stick: Real criminal malfeasance in government almost never arrests the public imagination, but anything touching sex does. The problem of accounting for unfunded entitlement liabilities is difficult to understand, but A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Foreskin doesn’t require subtitles — pornography is a universal language.

In other news, the CIA is spying on the Senate, the president is assassinating American citizens, our governors are ungovernable, our cops are criminals, our corruption investigations are corrupt, our anti-crime programs are criminal enterprises, the IRS agents charged with keeping nonprofits from turning into fronts for crass and illegal political campaigns have turned the agency into a front for a crass and illegal political campaign, our Border Patrol agents are engaged in human trafficking . . .

But let’s talk about porn.

The fact that our bureaucrats spend their days working as amateur snake charmers is, counterintuitive though it may sound, the good news. Rather than fire these tireless onanists, the federal government should upgrade their broadband and invest in . . . whatever matériel these ladies and gentlemen need to keep up their fearless campaign of hand-to-gland combat. If their brains ever get full use of the blood supply while they’re in the office, mischief surely will ensue.

Better their hands are in their pants than on the levers of power.

— Kevin D. Williamson is roving correspondent of National Review.



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