Buzz of the Week: HSPD-12 fears

NASA employees have won a small victory in their fight against Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12.

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Los Angeles granted an injunction last month for 28 NASA scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) so the scientists will not have to provide all information to complete background checks required under HSPD-12.

The lawsuit is one indication of how much has changed since August 2004 when President Bush issued HSPD-12. A high-profile policy intended to protect government employees and facilities has, in this case at least, ended up fostering mistrust, rather than security. And the fallout at the space agency could be far-reaching.

Dennis Byrnes, JPL’s chief engineer for flight dynamics, told the Los Angeles Times that “many will flee government service” rather than submit to the new requirements of employment.

That could be a problem for NASA. The 28 scientists and engineers who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit include engineers responsible for the Mars Exploration Rovers program and other high-profile space exploration missions.

The mistrust expressed by those plaintiffs must be disturbing to all the well-intentioned officials responsible for implementing the HSPD-12 program. “How many talented scientists and engineers will NASA and JPL lose because reputable scientists will not submit to intrusive government searches of their personal lives?” asked Varoujan Gorjian, an astronomer who has worked at JPL for nine years.

NASA officials are doing what they can to allay employees’ mistrust. However, they can’t undo the fact that HSPD-12 requires employees in public trust positions to undergo extensive background investigations, which could include questions about their financial and medical history.

HSPD-12 is unfolding like a drama with an ending we haven’t seen. We’re waiting for the next act to learn whether the federal courts will side with employees who think the government has gone too far with HSPD-12.

The Buzz contenders

#2: Secret budget revealed
For the first time, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has disclosed Congress’ appropriation for the National Intelligence Program. For fiscal 2007 and 2008, lawmakers appropriated $43.5 billion, which ODNI had to reveal to comply with the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007. But that’s all the agency had to tell. Further disclosures could harm national security, ODNI said when it released the budget figure last week.

#3: Make a difference
If you appeal to college students’ desire to do good in the world, they’ll want to become federal employees. That’s the gist of a new campaign by the nonprofit organization Partnership for Public Service (PPS), which wants to encourage college students to consider federal careers. What better marketing manager could the federal government have than PPS president Max Stier? “There is no better place to work on critical issues that affect our country on a grand scale than the federal government,” Stier said. “If you care about fighting poverty, securing our homeland, protecting the environment or any other issue of national importance, the federal government provides hundreds of job opportunities where you can make a difference.”

#4: Everyone’s a buyer
To bring more professionalism to the federal acquisition workforce, the government has added contracting officer’s technical representatives to the growing list of employees who must be trained and certified. COTRs are liaisons between contracting officers and project or program managers. Be on the lookout for a memo from the Office of Federal Procurement Policy about certification requirements for COTRs. The memo’s coming, said Robert Burton, deputy administrator of OFPP, who spoke at Input’s FedFocus 2008.

#5: Wiki world expansion
Molly O’Neill, chief information officer at the Environmental Protection Agency, and other members of the CIO Council are looking into the potential for collaborative technologies to advance the work of federal agencies. That was a topic at the Web 2.0 for Business conference last week. The conference also was a venue for David Wyld, professor of management at Southeastern Louisiana University, to publicize his new work, “The Blogging Revolution: Government in the Age of Web 2.0,” and offer government executives who might want to become bloggers some tips to get started: 1. Define yourself and your purpose. 2. Do it yourself. 3. Be regular. 4. Spell check.

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