The ranking GOP member of the Senate Finance Committee wants Congress to reconsider new funding to the National Science Foundation amid allegations that top staffers spent long stretches of their day surfing the Internet for pornography.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, sent a letter to the foundation's Office of Inspector General on Tuesday seeking all documents it has related to the inappropriate use of the foundation's network.
The foundation is the major source of federal backing in fields such as mathematics, computer science and social sciences.
Grassley told The Associated Press on Thursday he wants Congress to reconsider $3 billion in NSF funding that is included in the current stimulus bill until his questions are answered.
"I think they ought to. I think they need to," he said.
The senator said he sought the information after a team of staffers led by his finance committee aide discovered numerous investigations into the misuse of the Internet by science foundation employees. The investigations were buried inside a semiannual report on NSF's activities, he said.
According to the report, one senior staff member spent as much as 20 percent of his time during a two-year period at lurid sites and in sexually explicit chat rooms. That time cost taxpayers more than $40,000, the report stated.
Other employees were also alleged to have watched, downloaded and e-mailed porn.
Agency spokesman Jeff Nesbit said the foundation takes the report and Grassley's inquiry seriously. He said the foundation is cooperating and has already taken steps to address the inspector general's report.
"NSF immediately implemented additional IT systems controls to focus in particular on enforcement of the foundation's long-standing policy prohibiting the use of its IT systems to access sexually explicit, gambling and other inappropriate Web sites," Nesbit said in a written statement.
He said several employees were disciplined and at least three staffers were fired because of their inappropriate use of the Internet.
Grassley is renowned in Washington for using his position on the Finance Committee to practice a particularly aggressive brand of oversight. His staff has previously scrutinized megachurches and the Smithsonian, among other targets.
Grassley said he is pushing for more information about the National Science Foundation because he's concerned the issues in the report speak to a wider, cultural problem at the agency. He also cites the foundation's large budget.
The foundation was created as an independent federal agency in 1950 to promote science. It has an annual budget of more than $6 billion and funds, by its own estimate, about 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by the nation's colleges and universities.