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For immediate release: Friday, January 26, 2001

Bingaman Addresses Panel Conducting Comprehensive Polygraph Study

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman today spoke to the 12-member panel that will assess the scientific validity of using polygraphs on Department of Energy employees and employees of national defense laboratories, including Sandia and Los Alamos.  Bingaman is the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over DOE policy.

The 15-month study is being conducted at Bingaman's urging by the National Research Council, which coordinates studies for the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering the nation's most prestigious scientific and technical organizations.  At a morning meeting at the National Academy of Sciences Building in Washington, Bingaman told the scientists appointed to the panel that the conclusion of their study may ultimately shape future DOE policy on polygraphs.  Current policy calls for up to 30,000 DOE employees to be subjected to the test. 

"The idea that polygraphs are an effective screening tool for wholesale use is very troubling to me.  And, when questions about or opposition to polygraphs have come from DOE laboratory scientists, they have been dismissed as reflecting a lack of seriousness about their defense responsibilities.  I think that is way off the mark," Bingaman said.

"I want to underscore the extent to which polygraphs and the way they were imposed on the labs have exacerbated an already serious morale problem at those labs.  The idea that we are now going to go back and assess the truthfulness of scientists and engineers who won the Cold War for us is not a morale booster," he said.  "In my view, the only way to address this issue sensibly is to start by focusing on the science behind polygraphy, and we need to have this panel tell us how broadly it should be used by DOE.  That is where you come in."

During a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing last week, Bingaman gained an assurance from Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham that DOE will review this study once it's complete.  

Bingaman first suggested a comprehensive review of the science behind polygraphs in 1999 when he opposed DOE's plans for expanded polygraph testing of its employees. In October of that year, Bingaman proposed and won Congressional approval of an amendment to a key appropriations bill calling for the National Academies to study DOE's polygraph rule.  He asked that the study address the effects of prescription and non-prescription medications have on the test, and differential responses from physiological factors that may vary according to age, gender, or ethnic backgrounds.  Subsequently, Bingaman reached an agreement with then-DOE Secretary Bill Richardson that the agency would fund this National Research Council study.  DOE last month agreed to release $860,000 for the study.

 


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