AirTalk for January 20, 2011

Supreme Court rules NASA can proceed with background checks

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Laughing Squid/Flickr (cc by_nc_nd)

Supreme Court rules in NASA's favor. NASA scientists less than pleased.

Scientists, researchers and other contract employees working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have been challenging personal background checks by their employer in court. Under a Bush directive made in the wake of 9/11 and increased national security, the usual checks for government employees were extended to corporate, college and think-tank employees working on government-funded projects. The 28 scientists named in Nelson v. NASA have argued that poking into their backgrounds is invasive, a violation of their privacy and part of a broader move to erode scientific independence. Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of JPL, saying the checks – which include questions about drug use, sexual partners and other personal matters - are acceptable. Will this decision result in an exodus from NASA? Where will all of this scientific talent go?

Guest:

Dennis Byrnes, principal engineer and chief engineer for flight mechanics at JPL

Alan Brownstein, Professor of Law at UC Davis

Robert Nelson, Senior Research Scientist at JPL and lead plaintiff in Nelson v. NASA


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