Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,

Pornography and the SEC

Thomas Frank is the Wall Street Journal's editorial page token liberal. I have to admit, I almost never read his pieces. Whether I agree with him on any given issue or not, his prose is so laden with sarcasm and disrespect that it's irritating. Case in point.

I actually agree with his main point. The kerfluffle over SEC employees viewing pornography is, at best, overstated. The SEC, like practically every other employer in America, has a policy that says employees can't view pornography on work computers. Like practically every other employer in America, some of their employees ignore it. For example: Nov. 2008, the Office of the Inspector General's Semi-Annual Report to Congress on the SEC included a couple of pages about investigations of employees who'd violated the policy. (It's labeled pages 53-54 of the report, 61-62 of the whole document). They did three investigations and two inquiries, and got a few employees to resign and suspended one.

There's more than just this report; various news sites and congressional representatives have been pouring over the last few years of OIG reports on the SEC to find the pages about inquiries on pornography, apparently so they can claim that SEC employees do nothing but look at porn all day. Though even ABC news points out that the 31 cases are less than 1% of all employees.

Okay, yes, spending 8 hours a day staring at porn when you're supposed to be working is bad. But the SEC has over 3500 employees, some of whom were doing things equally sleazy and unethical. Let's look at a few of the other investigations from 11/2008:

* During the prior semiannual period, the OIG reported on an investigation it conducted of a Senior Officer (Senior Executive Service-equivalent) who had verbally and physically assaulted a colleague in the office. That investigation further uncovered evidence that the Senior Officer had a history of intimidating and controlling behavior in the workplace. We also found that the Senior Officer lacked candor in her sworn testimony to the OIG investigator.

* The OIG referred the staff member who violated the Standards of Conduct by misusing official time, soliciting and accepting favors, and favoring the contractor with whom she had a personal friendship for disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal. No disciplinary action had been proposed or taken against the staff member as of the end of the semiannual period, despite the fact the report was referred almost four months before the end of the period.

* The OIG investigation found significant evidence, including her own admissions, that the senior-level Commission employee clearly and purposefully identified herself as a Commission employee when dealing with brokers about a family member’s account. Specifically, the senior-level employee admitted that she contacted the family member’s broker to question the investment decisions and specifically pointed out that she worked at the Commission. The broker stated that the senior-level employee told him on numerous occasions that she worked at the SEC and made it a point to tell him that she had been with the Commission for 10 or more years. The broker indicated that he felt she was trying to intimidate and bully him and he considered her conduct to be unprofessional.

I'm not citing this to say that the SEC is full of horrible people wasting taxpayer funds and abusing their positions. I'm pretty sure that most large companies also have 1-2% of their employees engaging in ethics violations of one sort or another annually. "Looking at porn" is much easier to lump together than all the miscellaneous crap that people do, granted, but that doesn't make it somehow more egregious and abusive. Porn didn't cause the financial crisis, and I doubt it made things any worse. I'm not even convinced that there really was an increase in porn viewing during the stated period -- an increase in investigations does not necessarily mean there was an increase in violations. It could just mean that someone decided to crack down on it.

Anyway, I think the OIG is doing a fine job in investigating and reporting these and other ethics violations, good for them. But I don't think porn-viewing employees are actually the worst problem facing the SEC today. Or even in the top ten. -.-
Tags: politics
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