Roger Snodgrass of the Los Alamos Monitor reports. Excerpt:
New Mexico’s senators teamed up on Monday to strike another blow to a controversial polygraph testing program in the nation’s weapons laboratories.
Senate Bill 1261 [sic, correct 1276], cosponsored by Sen. Pete Domenici, R-NM, and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, would narrow the focus of Department of Energy polygraph tests to those who would most realistically pose an individual threat to American security secrets.
The statements of both senators on introducing the legislation were critical of the recent history of lie-detector escalation, which was imposed on the national laboratories in 1999 and expanded last year. The bill is intended to grant more flexibility to the Energy Secretary and the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), directly in charge of the labs, to put in place a less restrictive polygraph policy.
NNSA Administrator Gen. John Gordon also has acknowledged the connection between polygraph testing and low morale in the weapons laboratories’ workforce.
“We have yet to convince the current workforce of the validity of the polygraph test as a screening tool,” Gordon testified to a House Armed Services Committee Hearing in April.
LANL employees have voiced their concerns since the first polygraph crackdown was imposed. The “Ask the Director” feature on the lab’s web page has produced four special editions answering questions about the polygraph policy.
In answer to one question, LANL Director John Browne wrote, “I have been very concerned about the significant increase in required polygraph testing among DOE contractors that was mandated by Congressional law last year.”
“I have been consistent in arguing that screening polygraphs do not add much value to security, unless you believe that they serve as a deterrent to people contemplating espionage,” he added, noting there are many examples to suggest that the deterrence value is low.
“Having stated this opinion,” he said, “we are required by our contract to follow the laws of the land.”
Browne’s answers were in response to employees who, among other complaints, pointed out inconsistencies in LANL’s official policies that define polygraph testing as voluntary, and yet treat a refusal to submit to a mandatory polygraph by leave without pay and termination with loss of severance pay.