It’s fully voluntary, you’re not being coerced, but you’ll be jobless if you don’t comply

(UPDATED) That’s the upshot from NASA Administrator Mike Griffin to staff members of Jet Propulsion Laboratory about a new badge requirement where all employees, for the sake of national security, must submit themselves to — extensive! — background checks. It’s called HSPD12 — homeland security presidential directive #12, and there’s a web site put together by those employees who are fighting the process. What about lab custodial staff? Lowly administration? Yep, they gotta do it, too.

Today a group of employees announced that they’re filing a suit against NASA and Caltech to stop the process.
Press release announcing the suit, Pasadena Star News story. Wired News covers it too, interviewing a senior staffmember.

There are strange things in the FAQ, especially in the “voluntary” section

1. Is the JPL rebadging process voluntary?

No. Those who don’t participate will have their employment terminated.

2. Has anyone claimed the rebadging process is voluntary?

Yes. The process is described as voluntary on the SF85 and SF85P forms, and by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin and JPL Director Charles Elachi. Doug Sanders of the JPL Ethics office states that it is voluntary because the definition of “voluntary” involves a choice, and here there is a choice between terminating employment and complying with HSPD-12. By this reasoning, handing over your wallet to a mugger also would be voluntary when he offers the choice of “your money or your life.”

[…] 4. Will foreign nationals be able to continue working at JPL as before, with no new badge, while U.S. citizens are terminated?

Yes. U.S. citizens that do not go through the HSPD-12 process will be terminated. Foreign nationals that do not go through this process will continue working as before because a new process has not yet been defined for them.

I’ve been aware of it for a while (NASAwatch has been covering this), but I haven’t blogged about it before now. [Disclosure: my boyfriend works at JPL.] If I continue to cover this, I’ll stay away from discussions about people I know who work there.

I will, however, follow this post with one describing what it was like to be interviewed for the renewal of a clearance. I wrote up my notes on that a few years ago, since I interviewed the interviewer about her job and conditions and such.

There is a shortage of people to conduct background checks. So I have no idea how they’ll get the resources to conduct checks on an institution where 5000 people work.

UPDATE: Debbi Swanson Patrick a Altadena Above It All reprints a letter from a former JPL staffer.

UPDATE: The Nation’s story on the issue notes that the directive is being applied at only 2 research centers — Goddard and JPL, both of which do earth science. Some say this whole thing is about stifling publishing of research, namely global warming.