“Polygraphs Reduced by DOE Order”

Roger Snodgrass of the Los Alamos Monitor reports on the Department of Energy’s proposed changes to its polygraph rule.

The Department of Energy will significantly reduce the number of individuals now subject to lie detectors, according to a revision of the proposed rule published Friday.

Random use of polygraph tests will take place, however, although sole reliance on polygraph results for adverse actions against employees will be strictly prohibited.

More than two years after floating a polygraph proposal that essentially repudiated the findings of a study by the research body of the National Academies of Science, the rule is back again with supplemental revisions.

“My immediate observation is that the DOE has largely misconstrued the findings of the National Academies of Science regarding polygraphy and unduly relied on the counsels of bureaucrats with a vested interest in the perpetuation of polygraphy,” wrote George W. Maschke of AntiPolygraph.org, in an e-mail shortly after the latest draft rule was published.

Moreover, he added, “DOE still fails to address the fact that information on how to beat the polygraph is readily available to anyone who seeks it, and that no polygrapher has ever demonstrated any ability to detect polygraph countermeasures.”

DOE’s notice acknowledges that the question of using polygraphs is “the latest manifestation of this perennial struggle” – between openness and national security concerns.

“There are no easy answers to the dilemma of how best to reconcile these competing considerations,” the notice states in an introduction to the background of the rule.

Despite the NAS’s concerns about the “validity” of polygraph testing, DOE continues its call for a testing program that includes what the proposal characterizes as, “substantial changes” in response to previous critics.

“DOE proposes to conclude that the utility of polygraphs is strong enough to merit their use in certain situations, for certain classes of individuals and with certain protections that minimize legitimate concerns,” the document states.

In its proposal of April 2003, DOE reduced the number of people designated for mandatory screening from 20,000 to about 4,000, and then added another pool of 6,000 employees who would be tested randomly.

The latest proposal does not estimate the number of employees eligible for random testing but says the total tested would be much lower.

After a previous version of the rule met with criticism from employees and the scientific community, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham asked Deputy Secretary of Energy Kyle McSlarrow to consider longer-term changes.

McSlarrow told a Senate committee at the time that he found many of NAS’s concerns to be well taken.

Dr. Stephen Fienberg, who chaired the National Research Council committee that authored the white paper critical of polygraphing, reminded senators at that time of its conclusions.

“The scientific foundations of polygraph screening for national security were weak at best,” he said, “and are insufficient to justify reliance on its use in employee security screening in federal agencies.”

A public hearing at DOE headquarters in Washington has been scheduled for Mar. 2. Written comments (10 copies required) are due Mar. 8.

The rule can be read or downloaded from the Federal Register, http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/01jan20051800/edocket.access.gpo.gov/2005/05-248.htm .

To discuss DOE’s proposed rule changes, see the AntiPolygraph.org message board thread, DOE Proposed Rulemaking on CI/Polygraph Policy.

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