January 11, 2005
Emily Ryan
(202) 639-6421

DHS Secrecy Policy Reversal a Step Forward, Says Union

(Washington, D.C.)--"The Department of Homeland Security finally is moving in the right direction," American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) President John Gage said of DHS' decision to modify its mandatory non-disclosure agreement for employees. "However, there still is language that concerns us, specifically regarding the 'For Official Use Only' [FOUO] information category."

"DHS' decision to keep the FOUO category is an invitation for injustice," he said. "The potential for misuse here is astronomical. The policy still is not clear regarding who can designate FOUO and how employees who are found in violation of the agreement will be disciplined. Additionally, we still are concerned with the overly broad, subjective designation of sensitive but unclassified information."

Under the original policy, all new employees were required to sign non-disclosure agreements for handling unclassified information. The form also allowed the department to investigate employees at any given time. "This unprecedented access to employees' homes and personal belongings is illegal and horribly unjustified," Gage said.

"The original directive was nothing more than a fear tactic being used by DHS to censure its employees," Gage continued. "We are pleased that DHS has recognized its error and is taking the steps to correct it. We only hope that the agency continues on that positive path."

AFGE and NTEU had called upon DHS Secretary Tom Ridge to withdraw the original directive, citing it as imposing "unprecedented restrictions and conditions on the free speech rights" of DHS workers.

"We were very glad to see that DHS took our concerns into consideration," Gage added. "AFGE and NTEU certainly appreciate the need to, and importance of, safeguarding classified information; however, that simply was not the case here. Employees would have become fearful of every piece of information they received, which doubt would no have impacted their ability to act in the public interest."

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