Committee sends bills on porn, FOIA, discrimination to full House

A bill banning pornography at federal agencies is one of eight that sailed through the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday. Other measures tackle less salacious issues, such as the way agencies fulfill open-records requests under the Freedom of Information Act and handle employee discrimination complaints.

Here are some bills federal employees will want to track:

Eliminating Pornography from Agencies Act

Yes, some lawmakers believe a new law is necessary to stop federal employees from checking out porn sites at the office. An Environmental Protection Agency employee was caught last year watching hours of porn a day on his work computer. He’s now on paid leave as the agency goes through the proper steps to dismiss him. The sluggish pace has outraged Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who sponsored the bill. He has suggested that the EPA employee is not an isolated case.

“Over the last several months it has become far too obvious that the type of behavior that was first highlighted at the EPA has been discovered over and over again, across a host of agencies. To ignore this issue would not only condone an abuse of taxpayers’ dollars, but also embrace an unhealthy workplace,” he said in a statement following the committee’s approval of the bill. “While there are rules in place at most agencies to ban this kind of unprofessional and unacceptable workplace behavior, it continues to take place.”

The legislation instructs the Office of Management and Budget to set a governmentwide ban on porn. There would be an exception for those feds, such as crime investigators, who have to watch porn as part of their work.

FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act of 2015

Government documents would be publicly available by default under this bipartisan bill reintroduced by the committee’s former chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and the top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).

“There should be a presumption of openness in this country, and agencies should have to justify their actions when they want to withhold information from the American people,” Cummings said in a statement.

While Attorney General Eric Holder has set the standard as a matter of policy, the bill would codify it so that no future administration could change it, Cummings said.

Under the bill, agencies could deny requests if they were likely to cause harm or they were illegal. But the agencies would have to demonstrate why. The bill also would make it easier for people to request government documents through a central web portal, rather than having to email individual agencies’ FOIA offices. And agencies would have to post online any documents requested at least three times.

And the office that mediates FOIA disputes, the Office of Government Information Services, would become a separate entity reporting directly to Congress. It’s now part of the National Archives and Records Administration. The current set-up makes it hard to “speak truth to power,” former Director Miriam Nisbet testified earlier this month before the committee.

Issa and Cummings tried last session to pass a similar bill. It got through the House but not the Senate.

Federal Employee Antidiscrimination Act of 2015

This bill would forbid agencies from using non-disclosure agreements to stop employees from blowing the whistle on fraud, waste or illegal activities. It would also raise the profile of agency equal employment opportunity offices. They would report directly to agency heads rather than be part of human resources or general counsel offices.

“This would ensure that effective implementation of the EEO program is prioritized at the highest level of an agency – and that the program is operated with the sole purpose of ensuring equal opportunity for all employees,” said Cummings, who also sponsored this bill.

He singled out the Social Security Administration, citing a 2014 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report calling on the agency to make more than 60 improvements to its EEO program.

Federal employees and job applicants filed nearly 16,000 discrimination complaints in fiscal 2012, the latest annual report published on the EEOC’s website.

Federal Employee Tax Accountability Act of 2015 and the Contracting and Tax Accountability Act of 2015

These bills single out federal employees, contractors and grantees with outstanding tax debts. Employees could lose their jobs. Contractors seeking large awards would have to show proof that they were not assigning any tax scofflaws to the projects.

This legislation has sparked debate on Federal News Radio’s Facebook page. Join the conversation.

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