June 16, 2007
Washington - Could a worker at the
NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland lose his job because he can't remember
the registration number he got from the Selective Service System decades ago?
Could a federal worker's mental health history show up on a
government database that falls into the wrong hands?
Could federal employees be penalized because background
checks turn up information suggesting they disagree with the Bush
Workers are voicing such fears as the federal government
begins phasing in a new ID badge system designed to increase security at federal
facilities, say officials at two unions that are considering filing challenges
to the system.
One of the chief concerns, union officials say, is that
sensitive personal information could become public as a result of online
questionnaires that workers must fill out before they qualify for new
"smart card" badges that eventually will be required to enter their
workplaces. The questionnaires, which ask for names of workers' friends and
neighbors, also in some cases ask workers to sign release forms allowing
investigators to get access to their financial and medical histories.
The questionnaires have rattled some NASA Glenn workers who
have received them in recent weeks, said Virginia Cantwell, president of a
union local that represents workers at NASA Glenn.
"This is a major issue here," said Cantwell, who
complained that many NASA workers seem to have been lumped into a category of
workers who warrant more-extensive investigations. "We're going to be
Cantwell said members of the Lewis Engineers and Scientists
Association voted this week to consider legal action to challenge how NASA is
implementing the new system. She said some workers are reluctant to release
medical and financial information, and many are nervous about such information
going into a database.
Others, she said, are running into trouble when they try to
comply. She cited one worker whose application for a new badge was rejected
because he hasn't been able to locate his Selective Service number even though
he has contacted government agencies for help.
William Henry Jones, an engineer at NASA Glenn, said Friday
that he worries about the new system even though he was placed in a low-risk
category that spared him from the more-extensive questionnaire. He said he
can't fathom why the government needs to interview his neighbors when he has
spent his entire 33-year career at NASA.
He said he fears government officials could mine the
database for information about federal workers' political beliefs or other
tidbits that could provide cause for firing people.
Charles Paidock, a regional vice president of the National
Federation of Federal Employees, said he has heard similar concerns from
workers at the General Services Administration. Paidock, who represents workers
in six states including Ohio, said he plans to file an unfair labor practice
charge next week if GSA officials don't agree to meet with the union to discuss
the new system.
Les Farkas, a project manager in charge of implementing the
new badge system at NASA Glenn, said Friday that agencies are required to do
the background checks to comply with a directive by President Bush in 2004 that
called for a common ID standard for all federal employees and contractors. The
goal of the system, Bush said, was to increase security and efficiency and
Farkas said the level of information NASA is seeking about
employees depends on the agency's determination of how sensitive their
Kathy Dillaman, associate director of investigative services
for the federal Office of Personnel Management, noted that some workers will be
able to get badges without divulging information about their credit or medical
histories. She said it's up to individual agencies to assess the sensitivity of
The personnel office "takes great precautions to
protect the sensitive information collected as part of our background
investigations," she said through a spokesman.
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