DOE weighs random polygraph tests for employees

The Energy Department is considering administering random polygraph tests to some personnel as part of new counterintelligence regulations proposed this month.

Those who could be subject to the random tests include personnel with access to classified nuclear weapons-related information, according to a notice published Jan. 7 in the Federal Register.

One of the main goals of the random tests is "deterrence" against "damaging disclosures" by employees whose level of access to sensitive information did not warrant mandatory polygraph testing, the department said.

Noting that the number of workers expected to be subject to random tests is "small," the Energy Department said it plans to create a random test program that would be applied to the "minimum" number of people while still serving the deterrence goal.

The proposed regulations would also result in a dramatic reduction in the number of employees who would be subject to mandatory screening, from potentially 20,000 to about 4,500, according to the Energy Department. The reduction would be achieved, the department said, by the narrowing the range of information that would require mandatory screening prior to being accessed.

The Energy Department first began polygraph testing in the wake of the 1999 Wen Ho Lee controversy, which involved a Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist accused of mishandling nuclear weapons codes. In late 2001, though, Congress ordered the department to create new polygraph regulations, taking into account the results of a study being conducted at the time by the National Academy of Sciences.

That study, released in 2002, said polygraph tests were ineffective as a screening tool for potential security risks, warning of both "false positive" and "false negative" results.

"Polygraph testing yields an unacceptable choice," the study found. "Its accuracy in distinguishing actual or potential security violators from innocent test takers is insufficient to justify reliance on its use in employee security screening in federal agencies."

Opposition to polygraph testing has been greater at the U.S. national laboratories than in any other government sector, according to Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy. Scientists at the laboratories, he said yesterday, view polygraph tests as "idiotic, unfounded and degrading."

In its notice, the Energy Department said that polygraph testing is intended as a possible "trigger," the result of which could lead to further investigation of potential security risks posed by an employee. As a result, the department said, the proposed regulations would maintain policies against taking "adverse" action or limiting information access based solely on polygraph results.

"In every case of an adverse personnel action, it is DOE policy that such an action or decision is based on other information as well," the notice says.

The proposed regulations would also provide for the creation of a review board, convened by the agency's director of the counterintelligence office, to consider the results of positive evaluations.

Aftergood said the proposed regulations are "a big step in the right direction," as they acknowledge concerns over problems with polygraph testing.

The Energy Department plans to accept public comment on the proposed regulations until March 8, after which final regulations will be released.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.