Make PC use a perk

You’ve got to give credit to the Chief Information Officers
Council—and particularly Social Security Administration CIO John Dyer—for
proposing a policy on personal use of agency computers. It takes chutzpah to even touch
this perennial third rail of government computing.

The mere discussion of personal use of government equipment will conjure up visions of
employees with their feet up on their desks, browsing Web shopping sites for hours, or
Pentagon tunnel rats indulging in long games of networked Doom while bombs drop in Eastern

It’s lucky this proposal originated at SSA, an agency above reproach in
information technology deployment—and one that just finished installing 56,000 PCs
for its employees nationwide.

The proposal makes eminent sense, if applied rationally. People have lunch breaks. They
come in early and stay late. They work weekends. Government workers fall on the same bell
curve of productivity as their private-sector counterparts. Companies generally permit
reasonable personal use as long as it is legal, doesn’t interfere with work and
doesn’t endanger the network through the introduction of rogue software.

Some people will no doubt argue that personal use of PCs will waste government assets.
But that’s blather. Once an agency has bought or leased a PC and created the LAN and
support environment for it, the cost of a lunch half-hour spent playing solitaire or
browsing the Web cannot even be measured. The expense is that small.

The personal-use debate will have strong parallels to the puritanical ethics crusade. A
thousand-page ethics policy won’t stop a crook from taking a bribe, whereas an honest
person cannot be tempted to take a coffee mug bearing a systems integrator’s name.

Similarly, I doubt the personal-use ban at many agencies is spurring lazy employees on
to Spartan work levels. Nor would a reasonable personal-use policy draw the bulk of
government workers off their jobs.

Personal use won’t detract from the quality of government processes. It might even
help boost morale by recognizing that most federal employees are trustworthy and can be
treated as adults.

Thomas R. Temin
[email protected]


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