Trucks at Work

Why the hoopla?

This questionnaire they’ve been giving to people who are thinking about signing up for a government job is extremely invasive.” --David Gergen, CNN senior political analyst

It’s being called “the most rigid presidential vetting process on record” in several stories on CNN .My question is this: why is everyone getting in such a breathless twist over it?

OK, so the Obama administration is requiring prospective candidates to complete a seven-page questionnaire that requires the disclosure of nearly every last private detail of their lives – going beyond the obvious (any criminal activity in your past?) to scour personal diaries, blog posts and any potential financial entanglements of extended family members, according to CNN. All of this is in ADDITION to what’s called the “invasive” FBI background check for government workers at the Cabinet and White House staffing level.

“I’ve never seen anything like this at the presidential level before,” the great David Gergen, a long time veteran of the U.S. political landscape and past adviser to four U.S. presidents. “The FBI asks these kinds of questions, but to have the presidential transition team asking these questions requires ... great volumes of records that have to be checked out.”

Um, OK … so what? I mean, this kind of stuff is starting to occur for truck drivers, clerks, and dock workers people. More than a few worker-bee-wannabes are finding that the college party beer fest photos they put on their MySpace page are coming back to haunt them in job interviews. Don’t you think the same standard should be applied to, oh, say, the secretary of Commerce? Someone who’ll be meeting with foreign dignitaries and negotiating trade deals? It would be pretty poor form to discover foul-mouthed blog rants or risqué behavior on YouTube when the Cabinet officer in question is trying to remove tariffs for freer trade – so our economy can get back on the road to recovery.

One hilarious example came from – of all places! – the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders reality TV show on Country Music Television, where a prospective cheerleader gotten taken to task for suggestive photos of herself on her MySpace page. The best part is that, though she agreed to take the photos down, she didn’t understand why her “private” life was of any concern to her attempt to be Dallas Cowboy cheerleader.

That’s the very point: your private life now IS a concern … at least the parts that, today, are increasingly and willingly made “public” by millions of people via the Internet. We’re also beginning to realize that not just our behavior but those of extended family and friends make an impact as well. It would be kind of hard to convincingly position yourself as Treasury Secretary, for example, if your brother’s wife got convicted in a check kiting scheme and you knew about it and covered for her. Sure, stuff like that is sad and your own business … but if you want to then take the public reins of government, where your decisions affect hundreds of millions of people, let me tell you, you BETTER get vetted and grilled in detail about it.

Look, let’s be realistic here. Your job is not a wholly separate, hermetically sealed-off portion of your life. We all know this. Truckers know that if they get a DUI off duty, in their personal car, that’s going to impact their CDL. They know if they are convicted of felonies, that’ll affect their ability to get a hazmat certification on their CDL. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is trying to more closely link the CDL and the driver’s medical qualification file, because they know – as we all do – that health issues, be it obesity, diabetes, asthma, whatever, impact a trucker’s ability to drive.

In short, we’re demanding ever more scrutiny of truck drivers these days and are trying to hold them to more rigorous standards in both their professional and personal lives. We should – and apparently are – do the same for senior government officials. It’s only fair, folks – so you Cabinet officers, advisers and staffers up there in the White House better get used to it.