The government is questioning at least 50,000 employees to find out if they attended annual "Good Ol' Boy Roundups," described by some as racist gatherings that included past and present federal workers.
But workers' rights groups are concerned that the queries, aimed primarily at the law enforcement agencies of the Treasury and Justice departments, are an invasion of privacy violating the First Amendment.The government already has identified 33 employees who have attended the outings over the past five years, according to a month-old internal investigation called by Treasury Secretary Robert E. Ru-bin.
A Treasury official this morning confirmed the mass questioning, saying it was necessary as part of the "fact-finding" portion of the probe.
"We went through the Treasury's general counsel to ensure that employee rights were being considered and adhered to," said the official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity. "It turns out it was legally permissible to do this. . . . There have been no complaints so far."
The investigation began after a 90-second videotape of one of the roundups surfaced, showing racist aspects such as the sale of T-shirts showing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in gun-sight cross hairs, and a racist banner stretched across an entry point.
As part of the wide-ranging probe, Treasury Inspector General Valerie Lau this month distributed a memo requesting that "all enforcement bureau employees" respond to three questions seeking whether they were ever invited to or attended the roundups, held in southeastern Tennessee.