Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.) yesterday released a congressional study on drug testing of federal employes, saying that the urinalysis procedures are expensive, "useless in most cases" and often inaccurate.
The five-month study, by the House civil service subcommittee, found that while unannounced random testing "can effectively scare employes away from using drugs," it is "most offensive and demoralizing to employes and . . . destructive to work productivity."
"Everyone in America wants to do something about the increasing use of drugs. It's a plague," said Schroeder, who chairs the subcommittee. But she urged the administration to limit testing to employes in sensitive positions and those whose behavior has raised suspicion, rather than the random testing of all employes that has been suggested by the President's Commission on Organized Crime.
Schroeder said a subcommittee survey showed one in five agencies conducting some drug testing, and she said she supports testing "aimed at determining the causes of accidents or helping employes overcome drug dependency."
Schroeder said employes who are warned of drug tests, which she said cost about $100 per person, can abstain for several days and pass the test. "If you have to announce the testing in advance, you don't catch people. If you don't announce, you're probably in violation of the law," she said.
She added that surveys of drug-testing laboratories have shown that they do "sloppy" work, with 5 percent to 20 percent of the results inaccurately indicating drug use.
"That means that with random testing of the federal work force, 140,000 to 500,000 employes could come up with false positives which they would have on their records and would have to deal with for the rest of their lives," Schroeder said.
According to the subcommittee report, the tests also are affected by a wide variety of outside factors: "Tests can be affected by the body weight of the individual being tested, how much liquid he or she consumed prior to the test, or whether certain foods or over-the-counter medications were taken."
For example, it said that the poppy seeds that cover hamburger buns can cause the urinalysis to test positive for opium, while Contac cold capsules can distort test results.
It noted that a study by the federal Centers for Disease Control of 13 private laboratories found a "substantial number of 'sink tests,' where the sample is poured down the drain and the results characterized as negative."
A survey of federal agencies found that most defense, law enforcement and intelligence agencies have drug testing or are in the process of implementing such testing. In most cases, the testing is limited to new applicants or to people in sensitive areas.