JPL Employee Concerns About Background Checks

NASA employees object to data-gathering actions, Government Executive

"Lawmakers are investigating accusations that federal agencies are violating civil liberties in enforcing a presidential security directive that requires workers and contractors to undergo background checks in order to enter government buildings and computer systems. On April 26, a bipartisan group of scientists from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory wrote a letter to Reps. Rush Holt, D-N.J., and Vernon Ehlers, R-Mich. The scientists urged an end to the policy of gathering extensive personal information, including racial, ethnic, financial and medical details as part of the new security protocol."

Internal NASA JPL Memo Regarding Privacy Issues Associated with the Implementation of HSPD#12

"We are being asked to sign blanket waivers that permit investigators to intrude into our personal financial and medical records. The information that we are being asked to supply is very similar to the information requested for a full security clearance. The support documents provided to us by NASA associated with the HSPD #12 implementation contain numerous errors or falsehoods. We are all aware that falsification of federal documents is a crime so one might charitably assume that these mistakes are due to incompetence rather than outright deceit. Nevertheless, it raises serious concern regarding the confidence that should be placed in the security of our personal information once it is placed in the hands of such incompetent individuals as those within NASA who are forcing these documents upon us."

NASA Implementation of Homeland Security Presidential Directive #12 (HSPD-12)

"I am an employee of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and reside in Sierra Madre so I am doubly a constituent of yours. I am quite concerned with the implementation of HSPD-12 by JPL/Caltech under direction of NASA. To wit: I believe it to be an unwarranted intrusion into my personal life and an unconstitutional violation of my civil rights."

Comments? Send them to Your comments thus far:

I am complying with the request and submitting the paperwork required for the background check. However, I am wondering if some of my information will be acceptable.

I have moved 3 times in the last 7 years. In the area where you list your previous addresses, you are asked to list someone "who knew you well at that address and who preferably still lives in the area." I never got to know my neighbors.I listed friends who live several miles away but visited me at the address.

I can not help but wonder what the government will do with this bit of information.

Hi Keith,

Some comments on the rebadging process from a contractor at GSFC, because I think the views expressed so far have been somewhat specific to JPL... Please DO NOT use my name or email address because it's usually not good for a contractor to make noise.

Like most of the others that have sent comments, I am not pleased at the prospect of an invasive background check to keep my job at NASA. However, I do understand the rationale for the background checks and would, in principle, comply without complaint provided a reasonable level of sanity and courtesy were extended by NASA management to those of us going through the process at GSFC. In fact, Goddard management has very clearly given the rebadging process insufficient thought, and exacerbated the matter by extending little or no consideration (or courtesy) to employees. Some examples follow.

Prior to undergoing a background check, each employee is supposed to be assigned a "risk designation". There is a standard procedure for this, namely completing a "NASA Position Designation Record" (form NF1722), which takes into consideration different levels of access to NASA computers and financial records, etc., in scoring each individual. Although the form is more confusing than it need be, it is clear that most Goddard employees would be assigned a risk level of "low". The background investigation for a low risk position requires the completion of an "SF85" form to collect personal information needed for the investigation. I suspect that most people (myself included) would be annoyed but not excessively troubled by the requisite encroachment of privacy in completing the SF85, and would comply with at most minor griping.

Unfortunately, for reasons that are not entirely clear, Goddard management instead decided to summarily raise the risk designation for all 5,000+ contractor employees having a badge (even those of us off-site) to a minimum of "public trust and/or sensitive position", in lieu of the standard risk designation process. This higher risk level requires a more invasive background investigation (form "SF85P") which, depending on the information gathered during the initial investigation, may then require one to provide signed releases for additional financial and medical information. This implicit reclassification did nothing to instill trust in management. The perception among many employees is that those civil servants in charge of the rebadging process are 1) lazy, 2) have no concern for employee privacy, and 3) are possibly doing something illegal.

Until several weeks ago, Goddard management had improperly (and, again, possibly illegally) required all employees to sign the financial and medical information releases in advance. This further eroded trust in management, because it demonstrated that those directing the rebadging process were at least ill-informed, and possibly incompetent. Personally, I find the implications of this blunder somewhat disturbing: The financial and medical releases never expire, hence our government can, at any time in the future, legally demand financial and medical information about those individuals forced to sign the releases in advance. We have been told that there is no way to "take back" the releases since they have been electronically sent to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Couple these events with the normal levels of anxiety over the background investigations, numerous unresolved issues with the forthcoming smart cards, legitimate concerns over the loss or theft of our detailed personal information, and concerns over the impact of the enormous cost of the rebadging process (while we simultaneously lay off cleaning staff, telephone operators, and library staff) and I think it's understandable why some of us are, in the words of an earlier post, "crybabies" about this matter.

I really have to wonder why I have to go through an extensive background check to perform the same unclassified (and non-sensitive) job that I have had for 30+ years. Also, I am very worried about identity theft. The Transportation Safety Administration, part of the Department of Homeland Security, admitted last Friday to losing a hard disk with 100,000 employee records. If Homeland Security can't protect it's own records, what hope is there for NASA doing so, or whoever NASA turns the records over to? Will NASA insure us against any losses due to identity theft? I'm nearing retirement and I wonder if it's worth it to risk my life savings, rather than retire now and not go through this onerous process.

"Whaaaaaaaaa! I've got to fill out a form asking for personal information! I don't like it. Whaaaa!"

So go the NASA crybabies. Life's tough. Get over it.

But that's not the point, is it? The real issue is this: "What is NASA or the DHS going to do with this mountain of information??"

Are we going to see massive armies of government bureaucrats swarming across the country conducting background interviews on the shadier characters??

Will there be more budget cuts to NASA science programs to fund this "security theatre" DHS show??

And most importantly, what's the final scenario in this fire drill?? Is anyone going to be terminated because of the information gathered on them?? Can you say BIG LAWSUIT TIME??

Would someone point out to the NASA Civil Servant that JPLer are NOT Civil Servants? JPL is a contractor-run facility. I also work for a NASA contractor (Lockheed Martin), 100% of my salary comes from taxpayer dollars - but I was never subjected to a 3 hour form until I applied for a security clearance. So, will Boeing, Northrup Grumman, Lockheed Martin, etc. be next on the list of contractors who must spend their overhead dollars for employees to fill out forms (yeah, that will raise the overhead rates!!)? Seems unfair to single out one contractor.

Keith, Wow-JPL employees (can someone remind them their salaries come from tax payer dollars) have been working on highly sensitive projects (not classified) for years without having adequate background checks. Sounds like a great idea, huh? Now they have to go through the exact same background checks as their civil servant peers (many of whom aren't working on projects that are as sensitive). Sounds like California to me.

-A NASA Civil Servant who has been fingerprinted, disclosed his finances, and agreed to a background check.

I have the form sitting on my desktop but have yet to be triggered to fill it out. Odd thing about this... I have had Secret clearances, even and EBI in the past and know that they are quite expensive to do. If they do everybody in NASA wow that's a lot of money! Have heard this is Home Land Security, which makes sense, because NASA could not afford it.

I hadn't considered that the data requested might be a violation of civil rights, but it's certainly....extensive. It took me about 3 hours to get it all filled out, there is no doubt the requirement is onerous to say the least. I hope I at least get a security clearance for my trouble (ha!).

Interesting comments on the background check. Here at JSC, they've been having people fill out the forms similar to what is now on eQuip for far longer than was required by this new security law. I know I had to fill them out and get fingerprinted when I hired in about 6 years ago. They gave me a little bit of grief because I had traveled extensively out of the country on holidays and couldn't provide precise dates (at the time there were only 3 lines for out of country travel. 3!)

I believe it is actually fairly common for employeers to run a credit check on new employees (this isn't my first job where I had to sign that release form). Also, it is fairly common for employeers to ask for a few references to confirm your "past". But I do agree with the gentleman from JPL that everything beyond that is a very intruisive request for a civilian hire.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on May 9, 2007 10:20 AM.

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