WASHINGTON — The Reagan Administration, in an unexpected retreat, directed all government agencies on Friday to stop revoking the security clearances of employees who refuse to sign a controversial secrecy pledge.
The action was first disclosed by attorneys for two Air Force civilian workers who have been fighting the government's use of what is known as Standard Form 189. The document has been branded by congressional critics as overly broad and an infringement of the First Amendment rights of government workers.
The Air Force, in a statement, acknowledged late Friday that it had suspended action against A. Ernest Fitzgerald, a prominent Pentagon whistle-blower, and Louis Brase, an instructor at an Air Force intelligence school in Texas, "until further notice."
The service said all federal agencies had been ordered to halt enforcement actions by the Information Security Oversight Office, an obscure agency attached to the General Services Administration that developed the form.
Government employees had earlier been told they would lose their security clearances and face reassignment or loss of their jobs if they did not sign the form.
Fitzgerald had been facing an Aug. 24 deadline to sign the form and Brase was facing the loss of his job at Goodfellow Air Force Base following his refusal to sign the secrecy pledge earlier this month.
The National Federation of Federal Employees filed suit on Monday in U.S. District Court in Washington, challenging the use of the document on constitutional grounds.
Standard Form 189 has been in use by some government agencies since 1985. But it was only within the past year--after the Pentagon began enforcing demands that it be signed by all workers with clearance--that its use became public knowledge and congressional committees began investigating the matter.
The Reagan Administration maintains that the form is simply designed to underline the obligations of federal workers to protect classified information. The document asks workers to acknowledge the government's right to fire them or to prosecute them on criminal charges for releasing classified information.
Democratic leaders in Congress assert, however, the form is so broadly worded that employees are being asked to sign away their rights.