New Law Raises Concern About Morale at Weapons Laboratories As many as 5,000 additional employees at the nation's weapons laboratories are to be polygraphed under a bill passed by Congress and signed by the President last week. This requirement, contained in the FY 2001 Defense Authorization Bill, is raising new concerns about employee morale at affected laboratories. Warned Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), "Morale at the labs is already bad, and these provisions won't improve the situation. I would hope the DOE would be prudent in exercising this authority." New Mexico's other senator, Jeff Bingaman (D) also opposed provisions in the new legislation.
Joining the senators in criticizing the polygraphing provision was President Clinton. In a statement announcing the bill signing, Clinton said, "I am deeply disappointed that the Congress has taken upon itself to set greatly increased polygraph requirements that are unrealistic in scope, impractical in execution, and that would be strongly counterproductive in their impact on our national security. The bill also micromanages the Secretary of Energy's authority to grant temporary waivers to the polygraph requirement in a potentially damaging way, by explicitly directing him not to consider the scientific vitality of DOE laboratories. This directs the Secretary not to do his job, since maintaining the scientific vitality of DOE national laboratories is essential to our national security and is one of the Secretary's most important responsibilities. I am therefore signing the bill with the understanding that it cannot supersede the Secretary's responsibility to fulfill his national security obligations."
The bill Clinton signed modifies the counterintelligence polygraph program enacted last year. It requires polygraphing employees in high-risk programs, which under the new law includes "programs using information known as Sensitive Compartmented Information," "the programs known as Special Access programs and Personnel Security and Assurance Programs," and cites programs and positions covered in last year's law. The new law has language specifying the circumstances under which the Secretary of Energy can waive the polygraphing requirement. "The criteria [for a waiver] shall not include the need to maintain the scientific vitality of the laboratory," the law states.
Officials at the Department of Energy are aware of the employee morale problem at the labs. At a meeting convened by the American Association for the Advancement of Science last month, Maureen I. McCarthy, Chief Scientist of the National Nuclear Security Administration, said that recent events "have taken a toll, there is no denying it." "Los Alamos has been under siege," she added, citing security problems, the forest fire, new information regulations, budget uncertainties, and confusion during the last decade about the mission of the laboratories. She lauded lab employees, calling them "national treasures," and "our best and the brightest." "We need to be committed to them," she said. The situation is improving, McCarthy stated, with the appointment of National Nuclear Security Administrator John Gordon, the implementation of regulations against discrimination, the lifting of the moratorium on foreign visitors to the labs, and the establishment of a commission that will make an initial assessment by January 15, 2001. Regarding this commission, DOE announced that the panel's "study will focus on helping the Department develop a coherent security policy that addresses the organization's diverse institutions and missions in a manner that fosters scientific research and exchange while enhancing national security."
Richard M. Jones