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US Supreme Court Says NASA Background Checks OK

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the tell-us-everything dept.

NASA 172

coondoggie writes "In a long-running dispute about privacy and security, the US Supreme Court today sided with NASA saying its background checks were not invasive and that the information required for not only NASA but most government positions was a reasonable security precaution and that sufficient privacy safeguards existed to prevent any improper disclosures. You may recall that in this case, 28 scientists and engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory filed suit against the US government and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 2007 saying that NASA's invasive background investigations as required by government regulations [inappropriately violate workers' privacy]."

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They only ask important questions (4, Funny)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 3 years ago | (#34932708)

Questions like "Are you now, or have you ever been a Communist--or voted Democrat?" "Have you ever criticized NASA, one of its employees, or a relative of one of its employees?" and "Does the movie Red Dawn give you an erection and, if not, why?" are vital in assessing the security risk of a new employee or contractor. Otherwise, they had might as well put a sign out that says "Pinkos and homosexuals welcome!"

NASA is the first line of defense, people. Their job isn't to hire good engineers, it's to hire good AMERICANS!

Re:They only ask important questions (5, Interesting)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 3 years ago | (#34932758)

Their job isn't to hire good engineers, it's to hire good AMERICANS!

Wasn't our early space program staffed with Nazis?

Re:They only ask important questions (3, Funny)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 3 years ago | (#34932780)

You're not getting hired, buddy!

Re:They only ask important questions (5, Informative)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#34932802)

Sort of, some were ex-Nazis, but point taken. That was the whole point of operation paperclip. [wikipedia.org]

Re:They only ask important questions (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34932944)

Sort of, some were ex-Nazis...

Sure... "Yes, well, I *did* participate in mass-genocide for the Aryan Race, but I don't believe in that stuff anymore...

Re:They only ask important questions (1)

Duradin (1261418) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933740)

Dr. Merkwürdigeliebe, is that you?

Re:They only ask important questions (1)

layer3switch (783864) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933890)

for the Aryan Race

or Ben Franklin put it, "dirty white people".

Re:They only ask important questions (3, Funny)

nohelix (1244378) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933056)

Obligatory "Our Germans are better than their Germans." (From The Right Stuff)

Re:They only ask important questions (4, Funny)

syousef (465911) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933654)

Sort of, some were ex-Nazis, but point taken. That was the whole point of operation paperclip. [wikipedia.org]

They were Nazis but they got better? ;-)

Re:They only ask important questions (2)

Kitkoan (1719118) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933688)

Only works that way if they get turned into a newt.

Re:They only ask important questions (3, Funny)

idontgno (624372) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933792)

What, a "newtzi?"

Re:They only ask important questions (2)

Bacon Bits (926911) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933896)

Wasn't he Speaker of the House?

Re:They only ask important questions (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34932810)

yes, but they said they were very sorry and that they wouldn't do it again.

Re:They only ask important questions (5, Funny)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 3 years ago | (#34932942)

They were aiming for the stars, but accidentally hit London.

Re:They only ask important questions (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933266)

Once the rockets go up, who cares where they come down? That's not my department.

Re:They only ask important questions (0)

JavaBear (9872) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933500)

You might care if the rockets are scheduled to come down again in your neighbourhood...

Re:They only ask important questions (1)

retchdog (1319261) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933546)

Don't say that he's hypocritical; say, rather, that he's apolitical.

Re:They only ask important questions (1)

acedotcom (998378) | more than 3 years ago | (#34934016)

Some have harsh words for this man of renown, But some think our attitude Should be one of gratitude, Like the widows and cripples in old London town Who owe their large pensions to Wernher von Braun.

Re:They only ask important questions (1)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933564)

> They were aiming for the stars, but accidentally hit London.

That's not too far from the truth.

There's actual a classic Battlestar Galactica episode that touches on this sort of idea.

Re:They only ask important questions (1)

0racle (667029) | more than 3 years ago | (#34932858)

They don't let those people in the country any more.

I wish I kept a copy of the questionnaire to stay in the US I had to fill out, some of those questions were just hilarious.

"Hello, I would like a green card and, oh well shoot, yes I have participated in genocide. Sorry fot taking up your time."

Re:They only ask important questions (2)

afidel (530433) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933296)

The reason that question is on the application is it gives them a legal reason to revoke the citizenship of anyone who is later proven to have lied on the application not in the hope that someone would answer it truthfully (though I'm not sure how that applies to groups like the lost boys who were too young to have knowingly participated in their atrocities).

Re:They only ask important questions (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | more than 3 years ago | (#34934224)

(though I'm not sure how that applies to groups like the lost boys who were too young to have knowingly participated in their atrocities).

The Lost Boys participated in atrocities? You call being the victim of the murders of your parents and rape and murder of your sisters and every other female relative being "a participant"?

Wow. Simply wow. Is english not your primary language? Or are you trying to be funny and are referring to the vampire movie?

Werner Von Braun (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34933062)

See subject line, & this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wernher_von_Braun [wikipedia.org]

APK

P.S.=> His background, Nazi Scientist, didn't stop him from being utilized in the name of United States Progress in Sciences & Military applications... why? Because he was a pre-eminent scientist in the field of rocketry so, especially at that time, pretty much everyone wanted what he was good at so, there you are! apk

Re:Werner Von Braun (3, Insightful)

syousef (465911) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933682)

See subject line, & this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wernher_von_Braun [wikipedia.org]

APK

P.S.=> His background, Nazi Scientist, didn't stop him from being utilized in the name of United States Progress in Sciences & Military applications... why? Because he was a pre-eminent scientist in the field of rocketry so, especially at that time, pretty much everyone wanted what he was good at so, there you are! apk

It was a question of not letting the enemy have them instead.

Thing is, replace Soviet Union with Taliban and you still have the same issues. It's just not being handled as intelligently anymore. Instead we're letting political correctness run rife.

Not just ours (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34933074)

The Soviets were just as reliant on Nazi tech.

Reminds me of the quote from The Right Stuff "Our Germans are better than their Germans"

Re:They only ask important questions (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933080)

So NASA Godwinned itself right from the start?

Re:They only ask important questions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34933180)

Or listener to Rush, which is not at all the same.

Re:They only ask important questions (1)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933556)

> Wasn't our early space program staffed with Nazis?

Everyone's was.

There is a great deal of postwar tech that looks like blatant plagarism.

Re:They only ask important questions (2)

Lord_of_the_nerf (895604) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933600)

Wasn't our early space program staffed with Nazis?

I'm fairly sure they would have passed the Communist/Democrat question....

Re:They only ask important questions (1)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933994)

And on a related note, I thought the U.S. was selling any technology developed directly with government funds (or indirectly through contracts) directly to foreign competitors anyway. Heck didn't GE just sell its best technology to China over dinner at the White House last night. So I don't understand the background checks, unless they want to weed out people who want to see Americans employed making American developed technology.

Re:They only ask important questions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34932806)

From personal experience they will ask "Do you now or have you ever had sexual relations with any one the following Dog, Goat, Chickens, Ducks, Cows, or Pigs?" Again, from experience a response of "You don't have sheep on your list so, No i have not" is not considered funny. It is however a reason for them to tare your life apart and look for that sheep.

Re:They only ask important questions (2)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#34932986)

Tare?

tare2 /tr/ Show Spelled
[tair] Show IPA ,noun, verb, tared, taring.
-noun
1. the weight of the wrapping, receptacle, or conveyance containing goods.
2. a deduction from the gross weight to allow for this.
3. the weight of a vehicle without cargo, passengers, etc.
4. a counterweight used in chemical analysis to balance the weight of a container.
5. a word formerly used in communications to represent the letter T.
-verb (used with object)
6. to ascertain, note, or allow for the tare of.

Dew knot truss yore spill chucker. Eye donut thing ewe sad whit ewe mint two say.

Re:They only ask important questions (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34932836)

Of course you must also accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior to be a TRUE American. I'm sure Governor Bentley will attest to that.

Re:They only ask important questions (2)

DJ Jones (997846) | more than 3 years ago | (#34932902)

Your sarcasm may be more spot-on than you think. Government agencies often ask outlandish questions to pinpoint odd personality traits that you would think would have nothing to do with the job or national security. One of the lie-detector questions (I've been told) is "Have you ever had sex with an animal?".

You might be surprised how many people fail that.

Re:They only ask important questions (2)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933028)

"Have you ever had sex with an animal?"

I bet they wouldn't find it amusing if I responded with "Does your director's wife count?"

Re:They only ask important questions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34933104)

Do a Sean Connory impression impression:

"Only your mother, Trebek!"

Re:They only ask important questions (2)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933294)

"Have you ever had sex with an animal?"

That depends on your definition of "is".

Re:They only ask important questions (2)

GooberToo (74388) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933584)

You might be surprised how many people fail that.

By far, most questions are not about passing or failing the background check. The primary purpose is to allow for full disclosure so as to avoid extortion down the road. Now then, the answers may dictate what level of clearance as well as the types of projects you're ultimately allowed to work on, but the answers to those types of questions, in of themselves, typically don't exclude.

In other words they want to create this situation rather than one even worse:
1: "If you don't give us secrets, we will let NASA know you've had sex with animals. You'll lose your job."

2: "They already know."

1: "Oh! Carry on."

Re:They only ask important questions (1)

idontgno (624372) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933854)

In other words they want to create this situation rather than one even worse:
1: "If you don't give us secrets, we will let NASA know you've had sex with animals. You'll lose your job."
2: "They already know."
1: "Oh. Now we must kill you because our clumsy blackmail attempt has exposed us."

FTFY.

OTOH, at least you died a valuable contributor to a project absolutely vital to the security of the Nation, and your odd little secrets can stay safely hidden until they're declassified and outed. Or wikileaked immediately. Whichever comes first.

Re:They only ask important questions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34934008)

I think the blackmailers would rather threaten to tell e.g. his or her spouse.

I suspect that questions like this first and foremost weed out people with a sense of humor.

Re:They only ask important questions (1)

dtmos (447842) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933912)

"Have you ever had sex with an animal?"

Aren't people animals?

Re:They only ask important questions (2)

Obfuscant (592200) | more than 3 years ago | (#34934268)

Aren't people animals?

Puts a whole new spin on the group People for the Edible Treatment of Animals.

What? Ethical? Oh, never mind.

Re:They only ask important questions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34934036)

But humans are a type of animal.

I'm so glad I don't take these tests with seemingly simple questions like:

"True or false: the sky is blue?"

Well, sure, sometimes it's blue, but sometimes its grey (cloudy) or orange (sunrise/sunset) too, and at nighttime it's black.

"True or false: water freezes at 0degC?"

Well, it can. It depends upon the pressure.

And so on.

They must have real fun with the scientists.

Re:They only ask important questions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34934178)

What, all the ones who think humans aren't animals?

Then again, this IS for NASA employees, they're about as likely to have had sex as the typical slashdotter.

Re:They only ask important questions (1)

Nutria (679911) | more than 3 years ago | (#34934266)

"Have you ever had sex with an animal?"

Since humans are animals, and I'm Married With Children, the answer in an unqualified "Yes!!!"

Re:They only ask important questions (5, Interesting)

pilgrim23 (716938) | more than 3 years ago | (#34932980)

Speaking as someone who has been interviewed many times by the FBI re High School friends who were seeking a "Q" clearance, I can say the questions they asked about my friends were not intrusive and related directly to the character, honesty, and truthfulness of the candidate. I realize all of these are now outmoded and tired cliche instead of esteemed and admired character traits but that is the evolution of culture right there.

Re:They only ask important questions (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933626)

Well, the questions that they asked me about a friend who wanted to get Q clearances were more along the lines of "How many times did you do drugs? Can you write them all down?"

Really, you think I remember the dates, types and quantities? -- That's what they wanted. I just laughed. He got the clearance anyway. Whatever....

Re:They only ask important questions (2)

russotto (537200) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933700)

Speaking as someone who has been interviewed many times by the FBI re High School friends who were seeking a "Q" clearance, I can say the questions they asked about my friends were not intrusive and related directly to the character, honesty, and truthfulness of the candidate. I realize all of these are now outmoded and tired cliche instead of esteemed and admired character traits but that is the evolution of culture right there.

There's more than one type of investigation. If you get a clearance which requires a lifestyle polygraph, it can get pretty intrusive, Or so I've been told. I don't know if they ask the intrusive questions of others, though, or only the applicant.

Re:They only ask important questions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34934336)

I also have been interviewed recently for a friend getting a clearance for the military. Every other month they send him to a different foreign country for reasons he usually doesn't disclose. Most of the questions I got were of the type: "Do you know if he has left the country for any reason in the last 5 years?" "Do you know if he has had contact with foreign nationals in the last year?" "Do you know if he speaks any foreign languages?" I didn't get anything about character, unless you count "Do you know if he has ever been accused of a crime?" or "Does he bring a lot of different people to his home at night?"

In other words the contractor working on the clearance either doesn't know what the hell they are doing, or they are clumsily trying to catch him in a lie, or they are trying to see if he is telling his friends anything he is reasonably allowed to tell them.

Re:They only ask important questions (1)

foobsr (693224) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933252)

Their job isn't to hire good engineers, it's to hire good AMERICANS!

As a GERMAN, I might recall the times when they where better while hiring GERMANS.

CC.

Re:They only ask important questions (1)

tmach (886393) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933512)

Somehow, I don't think anyone at NASA has to worry about those questions under the current administration.

Re:They only ask important questions (1)

Phoobarnvaz (1030274) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933724)

NASA is the first line of defense, people. Their job isn't to hire good engineers, it's to hire good AMERICANS!

Just like the ones who understand don't the difference between a yard and a metre.

I used to want to work at NASA... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34932764)

Growing up I really wanted to work at NASA. Now that I'm a software engineer I can see that NASA is a beurocratic clusterfuck and most of the real innovation is taking place in private industry.

Also, many private employers are less obsessed with the content of my urine private life, and criminal record.

Re:I used to want to work at NASA... (2)

HomelessInLaJolla (1026842) | more than 3 years ago | (#34932844)

Likely the issue was not that the background checks were too invasive but that the people who had access to the information gathered from the background checks did not have the self-control to keep their mouth shut...

So once you have a background check pretty much the entire world knows about that time that you crapped your pants in third grade because your Mom forgot to wash her hands before she packed your lunch.

Background checks for security... sure. Background checks used to humiliate and intimidate... that's the problem.

Re:I used to want to work at NASA... (1)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933840)

It's funny you'd say that.

I'm a military contractor. It took about 8 months to get my clearance so I could get onto the base, but so far (and I'd like to keep it this way) I don't know anything Classified. Obviously that's private industry, and while you're right that a lot of innovation is happening in the private places, they are incredibly unstable and I've worked for four places that have gone bankrupt. Your best bet is to find a place with a generous personal IP policy and hone your skills at a place where there's no worries about your next direct deposit not showing up.

I've only had to give a "cup sample" for personal reasons. (post-vas check)

However, the most extensive check was for volunteering at the YMCA. I had to get fingerprinted and have that checked out to make sure I wasn't a suspect in any violent crimes. Hell, they have better gates there than at the military base down the road -- you have to sign in with a scanner, go through a turnstile, and your picture is displayed on the computers. By contrast, I could fake a better base pass with a laser printer and nobody knows who is on the base.

Re:I used to want to work at NASA... (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | more than 3 years ago | (#34934318)

However, the most extensive check was for volunteering at the YMCA. I had to get fingerprinted and have that checked out to make sure I wasn't a suspect in any violent crimes.

I suspect they checked your record for child and/or sex related crimes. You know, the things that the little darling's parents would sue them for if they let you near their little Johnny or Suzy and you touched them.

Think of the children!

What was the suit? Wool? A blend? (4, Funny)

jeffmeden (135043) | more than 3 years ago | (#34932814)

...28 scientists and engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory filed suit against the US government and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 2007 saying that NASA's invasive background investigations as required by government regulations.

Perhaps you meant to finish that sentence with a verb or two? I am forced to guess... Did the background checks insult their mom and kick their dog?

Re:What was the suit? Wool? A blend? (1)

LiquidLink57 (1864484) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933044)

I disagree with.

Re:What was the suit? Wool? A blend? (1)

craash420 (884493) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933270)

You act like you've never accidentally a sentence.

Re:What was the suit? Wool? A blend? (1)

Stregano (1285764) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933578)

Hey now, we all make mistakes, but what is far more worse is then you realize you fainted from it being so bad.

TFS/TFA misleading; not about govt. employees (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 3 years ago | (#34932854)

The issue in this case was not "background checks required for government positions", it was "background checks required for employees of firms with government contracts".

Re:TFS misleading; not about govt. employees (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 3 years ago | (#34932894)

Um, sorry: TFS is misleading; TFA is not.

Re:TFS/TFA misleading; not about govt. employees (2)

mjwalshe (1680392) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933040)

so its essentially the same clearance if your in the army or work for a defense contractor

Re:TFS/TFA misleading; not about govt. employees (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933118)

so its essentially the same clearance if your in the army or work for a defense contractor

Which is pretty much irrelevant, since this isn't for a security clearance, and the issue wasn't about a defense contract.

Re:TFS/TFA misleading; not about govt. employees (2)

camperdave (969942) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933644)

so its essentially the same clearance if your in the army or work for a defense contractor

Which is pretty much irrelevant, since this isn't for a security clearance, and the issue wasn't about a defense contract.

The rocket system-du-jour is the shuttle, which does carry military and defense related payloads from time to time..

Re:TFS/TFA misleading; not about govt. employees (1)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933702)

It takes up to a year to complete a clearance. Maybe there was something else coming up that these guys aren't going to be working on, at least not now.

Re:TFS/TFA misleading; not about govt. employees (1)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933726)

Except that despite budget cuts, cancelled programs, and a general lack of progress, NASA is still one of the most impressive things the US has. We put a man on the moon, damnit! Fifty years ago, sure, but we did it. There are billions of people paying attention to everything NASA does. One little defect in the right part at the right time, and the USA gets an internationally-visible slap in the face. That's an interesting prospect for hostile nations to consider. Plant an operative in the right company, and that right part can have its defect right on schedule.

Re:TFS/TFA misleading; not about govt. employees (3, Insightful)

The Dancing Panda (1321121) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933786)

Yeah it should be nothing like a security clearance for a defense contract. They're just shooting giant missiles with possibly nuclear payloads into the sky every couple months. I mean why even background check anyone?

It's a risky policy (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 3 years ago | (#34932926)

They're smart guys. They don't have to work for JPL. They do so because the really like to.

I'm sure COMAC would be delighted to hire any one of these guys for blue sky research.

Re:It's a risky policy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34933070)

I suspect your comment was at least half joking, but it's worth realizing that the chinese space program was basically created by one of the founders of JPL who was exiled from the US (after years under house arrest) last time this sort of thing came around.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qian_Xuesen [wikipedia.org]

Re:It's a risky policy (1)

Kittenman (971447) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933136)

They're smart guys. They don't have to work for JPL. They do so because the really like to.

Well, that and the money. Probably more the latter. That's the reason I go to the office.

Re:It's a risky policy (1)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933812)

I work at JPL. The pay is good enough, but it isn't stellar, especially when you look at housing prices around here.

I do it because I really like it. Its still a job, but its one I enjoy most days. If I was in it for the money I'd be working for an oil company in Houston. Thats where many of my classmates are.

Re:It's a risky policy (2)

flaming error (1041742) | more than 3 years ago | (#34934100)

> They don't have to work for JPL

Are you only joking, or really implying that if they don't like the policy they should just go somewhere else?

Leaving may be great advice for minimizing their personal troubles, but it's lousy advice for fixing a paranoid and stupid bureaucracy. Some people fight evil/stupidity rather than running away from it.

NASA Spokesman Regarding Background Checks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34932970)

A NASA spokesman said, "We just wanted to make sure we don't hire any illegal ALIENS".

I'll be here all week, enjoy the veal!

I don't recall... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34932988)

> You may recall that in this case, 28 scientists and engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory filed suit
> against the US government and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 2007 saying that NASA's
> invasive background investigations as required by government regulations. ... were what? Saying that "NASA's invasive background investigations" WERE WHAT?

Is this just an incomplete sentence, or is the rest of the sentence??

No surprise really (2)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933020)

Did you seriously expect the current incarnation of the US Supreme Court to do anything other than uphold more government intrusion? The only interesting part of this case is that it was basically unanimous.

That's Too Bad (4, Interesting)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933084)

A significant portion of the space concentration aerospace engineers that I graduated with from Cal Poly specifically avoided the defense megacorps when hunting for jobs (Lockheed, Boeing, Northrup) precisely because they did not want to work for an organization that had that kind of access into their personal lives. Many of those folk saw JPL as one of the 'civil' workplaces where they could find a job without having to deal with all of the security clearance BS. After this ruling, I am pretty sure that even more talented upcoming engineers will specifically avoid working for JPL (opting, instead, for places like Loral and SpaceX).

I would wager that this ruling had to due with ITAR technology though. ITAR agreements tend to apply to just about any space technology in the U.S. (which, incidentally, is hampering progress to a degree). So exposure to many advanced technologies must be heavily regulated and monitored. Hell, I plan to take a tour of JPL Tuesday, and I will be required to show proof of citizenship just to enter the facility; a facility that is entirely and completely funded by our tax dollars.

Re:That's Too Bad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34933172)

Hell, I plan to take a tour of JPL Tuesday, and I will be required to show proof of citizenship just to enter the facility; a facility that is entirely and completely funded by our tax dollars.

Exactly, funded by *our* tax dollars not those [insert random generic insult here] [insert random other country here]. If you verifying your citizenship keeps *those* people out, then I'm all for it!

Re:That's Too Bad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34933260)

This is standard across NASA and in the private industry. If you visit any aerospace company (Ball, Lockheed, Northrop, Raytheon, ITT, Boeing, etc. etc) they will also demand proof of citizenship.

The reason for this check is that all of these facilities have the potential to have sensitive but unclassified information (e.g. ITAR) floating around. A document on a wall, equipment visible from public spaces, conversations people are having in the hallway, etc. etc. etc. The requirement is to keep this information only among US permanent residents (citizens & greencard holders).

Re:That's Too Bad (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 3 years ago | (#34934062)

A significant portion of the space concentration aerospace engineers that I graduated with from Cal Poly specifically avoided the defense megacorps when hunting for jobs (Lockheed, Boeing, Northrup) precisely because they did not want to work for an organization that had that kind of access into their personal lives.

It's kind of a bummer, but engineers (speaking broadly, including e.g. C.S. but especially aerospace) can't do much R&D without making that particular deal with the devil. The vast majority of research funding is related to either medicine or defense, and medicine doesn't have a great need for research-level engineers. That leaves defense. Obviously I'm speaking in generalities, but I'll stand by them [todaysengineer.org] . Sure, you can go out and start a business in whatever domain you like, but if people don't spend money there, it will be short-lived.

Re:That's Too Bad (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 3 years ago | (#34934080)

After this ruling, I am pretty sure that even more talented upcoming engineers will specifically avoid working for JPL (opting, instead, for places like Loral and SpaceX).

Probably just as well. NASA has been heading for a political cliff for the longest time. The senator for the state that builds the solid rocket boosters (SRBs) is the one that holds NASA's purse strings. So, no SRBs, no money for NASA. Use SRBs and the launch vehicle is too expensive.

states' rights! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34933160)

but what if the reason you can't maintain a federal security clearance is because of your state approved medical marijuana?

well do you Barney "Let's crash the rocket into th (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933168)

Well do you want Barney "Let's crash the rocket into the White House and kill the President" Gumble working at NASA?

meh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34933170)

I don't see the big deal. Most NASA employees are responsible for managing vast amounts of public equipment and resources. Furthermore, many are directly responsible for the safety of others, and many others deal with sensitive (ITAR, SBU, etc.) information. As a taxpayer (and employee) I'd rather they pass a quick lookover to make sure they aren't complete screwups!

As someone who's gone through the NASA background check process last year, it's just a series of questionnaires (all done via phone/mail). Far less intrusive than an actual security clearance screening.

You fill out an initial form accounting for all the places you've resided for the past few years along with people that can vouch for that. Those people (1 from each place of residence) then get another scantron form asking 9 very basic questions Here are the questions from last year's form :

How long have you known this person:
My Association with the person is/was as a :
I last associated with this person : 0-3 months ago, 3 to 12 months ago... etc. etc.
Does the information on the front of this form concerning this person appear to be correct?
Do you have any reason to question this persons honesty or trustworthiness?
Do you have any adverse information about this person's employment, residence or activities concerning
y/n - Violations of the law
y/n - Financial integrity
y/n - abuse of alcohol or other drugs
y/n - mental or emotional stability
y/n - general behavior or conduct
y/n - other matters (if so explain)

Additional information which you feel may have a bearing on this person's suitability for government employment or a security clearance. This space may be used for derogatory as well as positive information.

Do you recommend this person for government security clearance or employment? y/n/I don't know this person well enough

Re:meh (2)

PPH (736903) | more than 3 years ago | (#34934240)

Lots of that stuff is subjective. And when they come around to check up on you, they don't limit themselves to the contacts you have listed.

When I was a kid, my dad worked on some aerospace stuff for Boeing. So did our next door neighbor. But we didn't get along with them very well. The guy and his wife were alcoholics and have one (maybe two) kids suffering from fetal alchohol syndrome. My folks just didn't care to associate with the riff-raff. But they didn't mind venting about us. At one point, my dad completed an interview about the neighbor with the DoD investigator. When it was done he said that, even though he wasn't supposed to discuss it, he had also conducted the interview with our neighbor about my dad. Hew said, "Boy, that guy really hates your guts. If it wasn't for the fact that we know he's got problems, we might take him seriously. But don't worry about it."

Now that I'm in the position my dad was in, I can only wonder what kind of crap my bible thumping nut case neighbor might be telling the authorities. After all, if I don't have Jesus in my heart, how can I possibly build weapons systems for killing non-Christians around the world? I know they talk to him because, in spite of instructions not to discuss the interview, their kids come over and say, "Hey mister! The FBI was asking my dad questions about you!"

NASA and security of data (3, Interesting)

shatfield (199969) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933206)

A friend of mine used to be a contractor to NASA and he used to tell me stories about how you could get into trouble if you queried the wrong column in a database table. His background check was so extensive that it went on for 3 months, while he just sat around and brought home paychecks for doing absolutely NOTHING.

He also said that if you pushed the wrong number on the elevator and got off on the wrong floor, you would be interrogated and possibly fired. If you did it more than once, you would definitely be fired.

Those gubment folks are pretty strict.

Re:NASA and security of data (2)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933350)

His background check was so extensive that it went on for 3 months, while he just sat around and brought home paychecks for doing absolutely NOTHING.

In the US Army in the early 90s, we certainly were not allowed to do our job, but we did not do "nothing". I became quite skilled and the operation of a lawnmower, broom, and lawn rake. Luckily for me if you signed up early, the army began the research early, so I only had about one weeks experience.

Re:NASA and security of data (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34933820)

A friend of mine used to be a contractor to NASA and he used to tell me stories about how you could get into trouble if you queried the wrong column in a database table.

How about something more intelligent, like not giving him access to that column in the database table?

Or only giving him access to a view so he can't even see that the column exists?

Oh, right, this is the government.

His background check was so extensive that it went on for 3 months, while he just sat around and brought home paychecks for doing absolutely NOTHING.

How about something more intelligent, like running the background check before they hire you?

Oh, right, this is the government.

He also said that if you pushed the wrong number on the elevator and got off on the wrong floor, you would be interrogated and possibly fired. If you did it more than once, you would definitely be fired.

How about something more intelligent, like a key, card or id badge?

Oh, right, this is the government.

As one who just turned down a job offer... (2)

heironymous (197988) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933214)

As someone who just turned down a job offer at a "big company" because I felt the background check was becoming too invasive, I now worry about how much control big employers have in defining candidates' eligibility to be employable.

It was much more about security theater than security. And, I'm troubled that the definition of employability is now the willingness to send one's tax records to outsourced fact checkers on the other side of the world.

Re:As one who just turned down a job offer... (1)

TheGratefulNet (143330) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933722)

right on brother! I, too, have turned down a HANDFUL of offers due to invasive employer tactics (driving record checks (for software? really?), employment/slavery contracts that are too 1-sided, being told who your OWN references will be, stuff like that).

companies have been very surprised to see me walk away from their offers. yes, in this economy, too.

its not easy but for as long as I can, I intend to resist those companies who cross the line. we know what that is and we can tell when the company is just being too nosey for its own good.

I don't get the big deal (1)

ThunderBird89 (1293256) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933242)

I don't really get it, what's the big deal over this whole issue? These guys are raging because they were about to get a thorough background check before they were let into possession of government info. Personal experience, I applied for an internship at the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, and part of the requirement was submitting to a Type-C background check, which is the most thorough of the three types in the Hungarian system: it includes a written questionnaire (which, I might add, included questions on my sexual orientation, and whether I know of anything can be used to blackmail me, such as homosexuality and addictions), a statement from you, and anyone living in the same household, that you consent to overt/covert surveillance and questioning of relatives and neighbors. All this for an internship, during which I probably wouldn't have been given access to any sensitive materials.
In light of this, such a check on people having access to government tenders and cutting-edge tech being developed, that other countries might show an interest in doesn't seem so harsh, does it?

Re:I don't get the big deal (2)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933746)

They don't care if you're gay, they care if you're ashamed of it.

"Oh, wouldn't it be terrible if your boss and dad found out that you were gay? If you got me a copy of MIL-TFD-41 I'd be too busy reading it to mail this picture to them."

Re:I don't get the big deal (1)

ThunderBird89 (1293256) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933990)

Since I honestly answered heterosexual to that question, I wouldn't know if it's actually a failing point. I didn't get the internship in the end, but I doubt the results of the check had anything to do with that.

Re:I don't get the big deal (2)

flaming error (1041742) | more than 3 years ago | (#34934172)

In light of [my Hungarian experience] in doesn't seem so harsh, does it?

I'm not sure former Soviet satellites are the gold standard here.

Therse background checks are stupid/wasteful because they ask the wrong questions of the wrong people. And they are invasive because the government really doesn't need to stick its nose up scientist's pants.

Background Checks (1)

thewiz (24994) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933288)

Anyone who has worked for the government, a contractor to the government and is/was employed by a company has had a background check done. You don't think said entities simply file away your personal information, do you? You've seen the many stories on /. about people not being hired or getting fired because of their Facebook/My Space/etc account. Well, you also invite the government/employer to use the rest of the information they collect from you to find out who you really are and not the prim and proper job candidate/employee that graced their doorstep.

Face the facts: Our world is a world where collection of information is a hot business and you are the prey. And your personal data that has been given or harvested WILL come back to haunt you.

NASA is quasi-military (1)

plopez (54068) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933308)

NASA has a sort of close working relationship with the military. Sort of like the Department of Energy and nuclear weapons. See http://www.energy.gov/nationalsecurity/nuclearsecurity.htm [energy.gov] for more info. NASA often develops and tests tech that the military wants. The military looks at space as the "high ground" critical for national security.

Some people think that parts of the DOE and NASA budgets should be considered part of the US defense budget.

clearance (1)

jfb2252 (1172123) | more than 3 years ago | (#34933482)

The 28 who sued were long time JPL employees, some with over thirty years service. Since JPL does no classified research they thought the government was over-reaching in requiring they allow open-ended investigations into their backgrounds. The SC disagreed.

Is NASA actually hiring? (1)

rossdee (243626) | more than 3 years ago | (#34934098)

The Shuttle is retired, and the replacement launch vehicle has been canceled, what is there for NASA to hire people for? I Can't see the new Congress giving them any more money either...

states' rights! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34934156)

what if your your inability to maintain your federal security clearance is a result of your state authorized medical marijuana use?

A Conundrum (1)

StillNeedMoreCoffee (123989) | more than 3 years ago | (#34934304)

As for the argument that a background check is necessary and why should you object if you have nothing to hide, for a position in the government that requires you to hide information seems a bit uneven in concept. I guess its true if they do not find anything about you they should definitely hire you because, either your clean or your already good at hiding information.

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