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Reagan’s Mandatory Drug Test Plan Draws Immediate Fire

September 16, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Reagan’s proposal to mandate drug testing for some federal employees as the cornerstone of an attack on drug abuse is meeting immediate resistance from members of Congress, unions and civil libertarians.

″This is the federal government’s way of just saying ‘no’ to drugs,″ Reagan said Monday in signing an executive order requiring urine and blood test for federal employees in ″sensitive positions″ and calling for a 40 percent increase in government spending on drug abuse.

More than half of the new money, $500 million, would go to increased law enforcement efforts to combat drug trafficking. But the major thrust of Reagan’s proposal - and most controversial - is to use the federal work force to, in the words of a White House statement, ″set an example for all employers to provide drug-free work places.″

The proposal met immediate opposition on Capitol Hill, where the House last week passed by a 392-16 vote a bill to use the military and increase federal spending on the drug problem by $6 billion over five years.

Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, in an interview Monday, labeled as ″pretty absurd″ the House directive ordering Reagan to send military forces to U.S. borders to help stop drug smuggling.

″We’ve always in our country, quite properly, said the military shouldn’t engage in domestic law enforcement,″ Weinberger said. ″The time that would be diverted into this is enormous. You would have to have commanders and various witnesses testifying in court in thousands of cases, and those things are never over quickly.″

While the House bill called for a military role to stem the supply of drugs, it carefully avoided the issue of mandatory testing as a means of decreasing the demand for drugs.

Rep. Don Edwards, D-Calif., chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on civil and constitutional rights, said Monday he is confident Reagan’s order of mandatory testing will be held unconstitutional in court.

″The president’s order violates three fundamental rights: the right not to testify against yourself, the right to be treated as innocent until proven guilty and the right to be free from unreasonable governmental intrusions of privacy,″ Edwards said. ″Government employees do not check their rights at the door to the office.″

Federal and state courts so far have furnished mixed rulings on the issue, but the overwhelming majority of them have held that mandatory tests by the government absent some other evidence or ″probable cause″ are illegal.

″Almost every court that has looked at the constitutionality of mandatory drug testing has ruled that at least there has to be a reasonable suspicion that a person is using drugs before urinalysis can be administered,″ said Loren Siegel of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Federal employee unions, some of them already waging court challenges to mandatory testing orders from specific government agencies, also described Reagan’s order as an illegal ″punitive dragnet.″

″Reagan has opted for the role of hangman of federal workers,″ said Robert Tobias, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 120,000 Customs Service and the Internal Revenue Service workers.

″Sure, he might find some abuse,″ Tobias said. ″So would strip-searching employees and visitors ... random searches of employees’ homes and wiretaps. Can they be far behind?″

White House counsel Peter Wallison said ″there isn’t a ballpark figure″ on how many of the government’s 2.8 million civilian employees will be tested. Each agency head, he said, will decide which employees are in ″sensitive positions.″

But several union leaders said a number as high as 1.1 million was discussed last week at a White House Cabinet meeting.

Attorney General Edwin Meese III described the mandatory tests as ″generous program to help the worker who has a drug problem.″ He said employees who test positive will have access to drug rehabilitation programs, in all likelihood while remaining on the job.

However, Assistant Attorney General Richard Willard, who helped develop the administration’s program, said decisions on suspensions or other disciplinary action in addition to offering the rehabilitation counseling and treatment will be left to the discretion of agency heads.

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