The policy also doesn’t set up an independent forum to handle individual complaints about polygraph results or abuses. As it stands, most federal employees and applicants are barred from suing in court, forced instead to seek recourse from the agencies that denied their jobs or security clearances in the first place. Federal offices that handle complaints of discrimination often refer the complaints back to polygraph divisions to handle, rather than investigating.
Aftergood said Congress should be more involved in scrutinizing federal polygraph programs – not by passing new legislation, but by demanding more details about practices and alleged abuses. Before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, lawmakers held hearings to debate the wisdom of polygraph screening. Since then, Congress has dropped a reporting requirement for the Pentagon and has required Customs and Border Protection to polygraph law enforcement applicants.
“Congress needs to provide meaningful oversight,” Aftergood said.
The congressional aide said, however, that it was unlikely that Congress would weigh in on Clapper’s new rules before they were finalized.
“We will want to make sure we understand the new policy and follow its implementation,” the aide said.
Holt said that the National Academies, which advises the U.S. government on scientific matters, might need to undertake its own review. In 2003, the National Academies urged the federal government to stop using the tests as a screening technique. The organization examined thousands of polygraph studies and concluded that the risk of innocent people failing the test, and spies passing it, was too high.
“It may be that practices have changed in the intelligence community” since the last report, said Holt, who‘s a retired physicist. “But I’d like to know whether there have been fundamental changes.”
Clapper, meanwhile, made it clear in a letter to Holt that the federal government has no plans to scale back the use of polygraph screening although agencies continue to seek out an alternative that “is less intrusive.”