Last week, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in NASA v. Nelson [PDF] that the federal government can perform background checks on contractors as well as government employees. A group of employees at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) brought suit against the agency in 2007 after they were given the choice of undergoing a background investigation or losing access to the JPL and being terminated from their positions. The suit reflects changing security standards for contractor employees.
According to Federal Computer Week, "The employees were not subject to government background checks at the time they were hired at the facility, but that changed following a 9/11 Commission recommendation that prompted the president to order uniform identification standards for federal and contract employees."
The federal government mandated that contract employees with long-term access to federal facilities complete a standard background check, typically the National Agency Check with Inquiries (NACI), by October 2007.
The employees argued that the background check violated their privacy rights and that the government should not be able to perform the same level of background check on contractors as on federal employees.
The Supreme Court disagreed, stating, "The interest is not diminished by the fact that respondents are contract employees. There are no meaningful distinctions in the duties of NASA’s civil-service and contractor employees, especially at JPL, where contract employees do work that is critical to NASA’s mission and that is funded with a multibillion dollar taxpayer investment."
Discussion: What do you think about the Supreme Court's decision?
Authored by Lindley Ashline of GovWin