SOME MEMBERS of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee reminded us, this week, of those folks who are all for halfway houses or racially integrated schools so long as they're in someone else's neighborhood. These legislators have raised no objections to the president's proposal for drug testing of federal job applicants and more than a million other workers in "sensitive positions" in the government. But when it comes to employees of the Veterans' Administration, all bets are off. Some workers are just more equal than others.
This week the committee added to a veterans' compensation bill language that would bar tests of VA employees except in cases where officials have a reasonable suspicion that an employee is using illegal drugs, has been involved in an accident or is in a rehabilitation program. This is good policy. But this standard should apply to the whole government, not just to one favored agency. Sponsors of the amendment correctly pointed out that random tests given to ordinary civilian workers about whom there is no suspicion whatever are a waste of money. They are also an invasion of privacy and a blow to the morale of the federal work force.
In June, Rep. Steny Hoyer persuaded the House to adopt an amendment to the supplemental appropriations bill that would have applied these limited testing standards to all civilian workers. But that amendment was not passed by the Senate. Instead, eight out of 11 members of the Veterans' Committee voted for alternative language that was far less effective. The compromise finally adopted allows random testing but only after guidelines and cost estimates have been developed. Not one of the Veterans' Committee members tried on the floor to substitute the Hoyer amendment. It is no wonder that Sen. Dennis DeConcini, who favors broad testing and who helped to devise the appropriations compromise, was flabbergasted when some of his more conservative colleagues on the Veterans' Committee supported the Hoyer standards for the VA.
For some on the Veterans' Committee this week's vote was no surprise. They have consistently opposed broad testing and apparently decided that it was better to attack the president's proposal piecemeal and in a forum where they had some clout. But those who are willing to carve out exceptions only for their friends are leaving themselves open to charges of hypocrisy. If drug testing without probable cause is objectionable in the VA, it shouldn't be imposed on job applicants at the Interior Department, trade experts at Commerce or nurses at NIH.