Shop 'til you drop on the government's time?

The holiday shopping season is upon us. But with busy schedules and limited time to shop in the stores, is it OK for feds to to make personal online purchases while at work?

Love the holidays but hate the countless hours spent shopping? Join the club. Forget the anxiety in scurrying around looking for the perfect present; nothing elevates my heart rate like trying to maneuver through jam-packed malls and frenzied crowds. The solution? Online shopping.

However, while it's not as time-consuming as shopping at traditional bricks-and-mortar stores, using your computer as a shopping cart still takes a chunk out of your day. And let’s face it: Most of us spend the majority of our time at work, so a fair amount of holiday shopping happens during business hours. A September 2011 poll by ISACA supports that assumption: With online shopping growing in popularity, nearly one-third of Americans say they will do some Christmas shopping online while at work.

The survey, which polled IT professionals from the private sector, also found that online shoppers will spend 32 hours on average purchasing gifts, with 18 of those spent on a work-supplied device or personally owned device used for work purposes.

Most federal agencies allow limited personal use of work computers, but the operating ethos is to keep waste to a minimum. For example, the Energy Department follows a directive that allows limited personal use of government information technology, as long as it means  “de minimis additional expense to the government.” That suggests that it's ok to use your work computer to order from Amazon.com or browse Cooks.com (or similar sites), as long as you're doing it on your own time and not charging your purchases to the government.

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday upon us, are you planning on doing any online shopping at work? Does your agency have a policy that allows employees to use personal computers for activities such as online shopping? Or do you do your retail therapy after work, the old-fashioned way, at the mall?

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