Required security screenings for researchers: A policy analysis

Andrew A. Zucker


After the attacks of 9/11/2001 the federal government implemented new policies intended to protect people and institutions in the United States. A surprising policy requires education researchers conducting research under contract to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to obtain security clearances, sometimes known as security screenings. Contractor employees whose work meets any of four conditions are required to “undergo personnel security screenings.” Two of the four conditions are mandated by Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12, issued by President George W. Bush in 2004. This article focuses on the other two conditions triggering security screenings by ED, which are when contractor employees either “require access to unclassified sensitive information, such as Privacy Act-protected, personally identifiable, proprietary or other sensitive information and data” or “perform duties in a school or location where children are present.” Neither is a national security concern. Since 2007 the American Educational Research Association has objected to security screenings triggered by these two requirements; however, the policy was reissued by ED in July 2010. This article describes the experiences of contracting organizations and their employees. The majority have complied with the requirements, although often under duress. Two historical precedents are cited and discussed, when the government in the 1950s implemented loyalty oath provisions allegedly to protect citizens. Sociological and psychological research is explored that sheds light on people’s behavior when faced with requirements such as these screenings. A lengthy list of objections to the policy is explained and discussed.


contractor employee security screenings federal policy

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Copyright (c) 2019 Andrew A. Zucker


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