Some public employees are spending inordinate amounts of work time viewing YouTube videos that appear to have nothing to do with their jobs, an investigation by NBC Chicago and The Better Government Association has found.
Administrative workers at PACE -- the Chicago-area suburban bus transit system -- have been viewing videos on everything from zombies and "fart pranks" to dancing bees and "Jeep Hotties," according to documents provided to NBC Chicago and the BGA as part of a Freedom of Information Act request.
PACE employs about 1,600 people, and roughly 350 of those have access to the Internet, many of them at PACE’s main headquarters in Arlington Heights or its district offices in various suburbs.
But unlike many public agencies surveyed by NBC Chicago and the BGA, PACE keeps track of each employee's web history and was therefore able to provide every web address for YouTube videos accessed by every worker from May to July of 2012.
Most PACE employees logged very little time on YouTube, viewing an occasional video every few days or so. But NBC Chicago and the BGA found some employees spending up to two or three hours a day, over several days, watching videos on sports, politics, animals, and much more. In all, the NBC Chicago/BGA investigation discovered more than 150 hours of non-work-related videos, viewed by PACE employees over a period of approximately 10 weeks.
The videos include:
- A collection of clips of people repeatedly saying the “F” word;
- A deposition interrupted by two people apparently having sex on a speakerphone;
- A man jumping on top of a row of portable toilets;
- "Price Is Right BOOBS";
- Monster trucks;
- And an elephant playing a harmonica.
After NBC Chicago and the BGA requested the YouTube records last fall, PACE officials launched an internal review which resulted in reprimands for an unspecified number of employees.
"We would normally look at how many hours [employees] spent online," said PACE’s Executive Director, T.J. Ross, adding that the agency produces monthly reports on Internet usage.
"I think [the FOIA request] gave us an opportunity to look at things again. And we’re going to continue to look at different ways of looking at Internet usage," he said.
Ross took issue with any implication that YouTube-watching is seriously affecting productivity at PACE. He pointed to PACE’s balanced budget, improved on-time performance and increase in ridership as evidence that his employees do their jobs effectively.
Still, he acknowledged that he spoke to some employees about the findings, and said YouTube usage had since fallen to an average of seconds per employee per day.
PACE has always blocked access to certain websites, those devoted to gambling or pornography, for example. But that did not prohibit several PACE employees from accessing videos that many would consider inappropriate for the workplace, including "Cannibal Holocaust," and "Al Pacino’s Best Line Ever."
On the other hand, PACE appears to be more proactive that most agencies in monitoring its employees’ activities on the Internet.
The City of Chicago, for example, does not regularly monitor how long any of its employees are on certain websites. Officials said doing so is too expensive. Like PACE, the city prohibits access to certain types of websites, but social media sites like Facebook and YouTube are not blocked.
At the Regional Transportation Authority -- PACE’s umbrella agency -- any employee with Internet access can watch anything on YouTube, which the agency says "is used for a variety of purposes including training." But RTA officials admitted that those YouTube visits are not regularly monitored.
At PACE, Ross has also recently appointed an ethics officer who, he said, will look at additional ways to address the investigation's findings. But he also acknowledged that the occasional "cyberloafing" may be an inevitable cost of conducting business online.
"We know that [Internet access] has improved our productivity at PACE," he said. "But we also know there’s a side to it that we have to worry about, [and that's] getting the best bang for the dollar for our taxpayers."