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Caltech Scientists Sue NASA Over Mandatory Background Checks

By Edvard Pettersson

Aug. 31 (Bloomberg) -- A group of California Institute of Technology scientists and engineers sued the U.S. government, saying new background checks by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration violate their constitutional rights.

The scientists must submit to ``an open-ended background investigation'' and a determination of their suitability for their jobs based on ``wrong-headed and/or dangerously vague criteria such as sexual orientation,'' they said yesterday in a complaint in Los Angeles federal court.

The 28 scientists and engineers who sued work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, operated by Caltech for NASA. The laboratory runs missions such as the Mars Rover project. None of the scientists, some of whom have worked at JPL more than 20 years, have security clearances or work with classified material, they said in the complaint.

``NASA will be deprived of talented scientists and engineers who will be deterred from applying to work at JPL because of the newly required background investigation and waiver of privacy rights, both of which are antithetical to the type of autonomy and academic freedom needed to maintain JPL's status as the preeminent research institution for space exploration,'' the scientists said.

The requirements are part of a uniform identification system for federal employees in the executive branch, David Mould, a NASA spokesman in Washington, said. He declined to comment on the claims in the suit.

The case is Nelson v. NASA, 07-5669, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).

To contact the reporter on this story: Edvard Pettersson in Los Angeles at epettersson@bloomberg.net .

Last Updated: August 31, 2007 16:11 EDT

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