". . . People, even people working for the government, have within reason the right to be left alone," says Judge Gerhard A. Gesell.
With those words, the U.S. District Court here has pulled the plug on a controversial Energy Department show-and-tell program. It forced thousands of workers to reveal everything to the new department, from whether they own stock in Gulf Oil Company to whether their 6-year-old was an officer in the Mickey Mouse Club.
Gesell's Jan. 13 ruling has rocked DOE. It may spell trouble too, for force employees to make detailed --sometimes embarrassing -- disclosures about the financial, social and personal side of their lives.
When Congress created the Department of Energy, headed by former Defense and CIA Chief James Schlesinger, it said that DOE must make sure that key and senior employees had no outside interests that would conflict with their jobs. That is standard for many agencies -- with the toughest requirements for disclosure being in regulatory bodies.
DOE went s step further, some employees think, by requiring virtually everybody in Grade 13 ($26,022) and above, to fill out a detailed questionnaire. It required much more than just individual holdings or interests in energy-related activities.It also asked for information on the connections an employee, spouse or child has with various corporation, educational or nonprofit groups, in addition to financial data on them.
A number of employees balked. The American Federation of Government Employees Union, after protesting, took DOE to court. That is where Judge Gesell comes in.
His ruling does not dispute DOE's right, and duty, to check on relationships between key workers and business firms that might result in a conflict of interest, or the appearance of one. He does come down hard on the "sweeping and somewhat undefined demand" for other data on employees and families members that, he says, "will produce a wealth of personal information" on the employees and their families.
Gesell obviously believes DOE has gone too far. His decision said:
"In this immediately post-Watergate period, the view exists that conflicts of interest can be expunged by forcing intimate disclosures from those dealing with or acting for the government. Within limits this may be sound, but we must beware lest excessive zeal in this direction destroy more precious fundamental values.
". . . Consider what has happened here. The Department of Energy embodies an obvious potential for conflicts of interest. Congress properly required disclosure of interests in energy concerns. But what does the ultimate questionnaire ask? It prays into religious, social, political, educational, and fraternal associations both of the employees, the employee's spouse, his minor children and dependents. This is too much!"
Besides not approving the right to ask personal questions, Gesell voices concern about the "technology for storing, correlating, and regurgitating information" by an inquisitive government. In a word, he has told DOE to go back to the drawing board and come up with a questionnaire which protects the agency, employee and public without being so ham-fisted.
Operation Upbeat: Civil Service Chairman Alan K. Campbell will talk about "What is Right With Federal Employees" on Wednesday at the Navy Yard meeting of the international Personnel Management Association. Planners expect a sellout for the session with the CSC chief, who is one of the top planners and salesmen of the President's reorganization program. Call Dona Wolf today at 755-7654 for reservations.
The Winner, Again: American Postal Workers Union's public relations consultant Stan Allen has won the top award of the International Labor Press Association. This one was for a column dealing with the Soviet postal system that was both amusing and informative. The APWU magazine is a winner almost every year in the Labor contest, which draws thousands of nominations from union publications around the world.
Computer Security: New federal plans for safeguarding data in the government's automated information systems is the topic of a Jan. 26 talk by Ed Springer of the Office of Management and Budget. Time is 10 a.m. in the Treasury Department's cash room. Call Lee Ohringer at 634-5403 for details.
Postal Labor Negotiating Committee: The combined union bargaining team has moved its offices to 1629 K st. nw. James J. LaPenta Jr., of the Laborer's international is secretary of the group.