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Editorial: A time for listening


BY Christopher J. Dorobek
Published on Sept. 10, 2007


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There was a time when employers could dictate working conditions and tell employees, “Take it or leave it.” Fortunately, most organizations have evolved beyond that hierarchical, top-down management style and have come to realize that good people are essential. They understand that, in this age of globalism and competition, the best and brightest are looking for challenges and a work environment where they are trusted and heard.

In some ways, the federal government is still stuck in a bygone era.

The most recent example of that is NASA’s response to employees’ concerns about Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12.

A growing number of federal workers are uncomfortable with HSPD-12’s background-check provisions. In July, Federal Computer Week reported on those concerns, particularly about privacy issues. They have become grave enough that a group of scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory recently filed a lawsuit seeking to block NASA’s adoption of HSPD-12.

To their credit, NASA officials have been discussing the issues with employees, and NASA Administrator Michael Griffin met with JPL employees June 4 to try to address their concerns. All those efforts, however, are for naught because NASA has essentially told employees that they must submit to the HSPD-12 background checks — or leave.

A NASA spokesman told FCW that the directive gives the agency no other option. Griffin was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying that NASA doesn’t have a choice in the matter. “We will miss those folks” who do not comply with the order, he said. “That is their choice.”

We believe that the HSPD-12 cards will prove to be an enabling technology that will create opportunities well into the future. They will also boost agency security.

But whenever security and privacy issues crop up, there is a need for balance — and that balance must constantly be reassessed. Most employees were not involved in discussions about the HSPD-12 provisions, but their voices must be heard.

The government needs dedicated, talented people — particularly now. Feds are already underpaid and underappreciated. On top of that, NASA has employees with unique skills that cannot be easily replaced. To subject them to another mandate and say, “Take it or leave it,” seems shortsighted and unnecessarily draconian.

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