WE HAVE BEEN WAITING to see the clarification of the crazy proposal set forth by The President's Commission on Organized Crime concerning illegal drug use. But the back and forth conversation, the hedging and reconfirming and so forth that have gone on have pretty much left the proposal in question in place. The commission urged that all federal employees and all employees of federal contractors should be tested for drug use. It also urged private employers and state and local governments to adopt similar policies. Can the commission be serious? Does it really want to go this far?
Drug testing -- with prior notification -- in certain categories of high-risk jobs is acceptable. And even in cases where the public safety and national security are not immediately at risk, employers have a right to expect employees to perform their work with diligence and efficiency. So there should be no serious objection to an employer's focusing on a worker whose job performance or behavior indicates that he may be a drug user, just as an employer would question someone who is chronically late or drunk by 3 in the afternoon. Many private companies require suspected drug users to submit to tests and offer counseling and rehabilitation services to those who want to reform. Good programs also take into account the possibility of lab error and offer retests when initial results are challenged.
But all this is a far cry from blanket mandatory tests of millions or even tens of millions of workers. The crime commission's wide net would encompass the 67-year-old postmistress in a rural town, the secretary of state and the tailor who has just won a superior service award for sewing patches on army uniforms. Does this make sense? No less important, will the millions of workers affected stand still it?
Drug use is a serious problem in the work place. Employers, including the government, are under no obligation to hire or keep users on the payroll. But the widespread mandatory testing recommended by the commission violates dignity, legal rights and common sense. It is a terrible, intrusive idea and should be junked.