The Senate and House have voted to prohibit the Pentagon from expanding the use of lie detector tests of Defense Department employes.
Both chambers voted to curb any expansion through next April, which gives Congress a chance to hold hearings on proposals from the White House and the Pentagon to use lie detectors more often to discourage information leaks. The measures, approved this week in the House and last week in the Senate, differ slightly and will be taken up in a conference committee on the defense authorization bill.
President Reagan issued an executive order in March that would allow employes to be punished for refusing to take a polygraph examination. The order applies to all government workers with access to classified information, but would affect more people in the Defense Department than anywhere else.
At the same time, the Pentagon revised its rules and was considering further changes so that applicants for sensitive posts could be forced to take lie detector tests before they could be hired. The Pentagon also proposed for the first time that employes could be punished for refusing to take a test, even if no evidence of wrongdoing existed.
The Pentagon's draft directive, reported in The Washington Post, sparked two congressional hearings and considerable criticism which in turn prompted Pentagon officials to take a second look. Pentagon health director John F. Beary III warned that the polygraph "misclassifies innocent people as liars," and civil liberties lawyers complained the tests could be used to intimidate.
Pentagon officials said the tests are needed to guard against unauthorized disclosures and to keep out spies.
The amendments passed in Congress would return the Pentagon to rules that were in effect last summer, negating the presidential order as well as internal directives. Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) said the provision "does reflect concern about a trend developing in DOD Department of Defense --and in the society at large--that could result in over-reliance on a machine and process which is recognized as inherently unreliable and of limited utility."
The amendment was sponsored in the House by Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Tex.), who has asked for reports from the Office of Technology Assessment on the value of lie detector tests and from the General Accounting Office on how many employes would be affected by the proposed new policies.
Pentagon officials said they did not fight the delay in implementation.
"If Congress has these concerns, we're willing to go up there make our case," said L. Britt Snider, director of counterintelligence and security policy.