A federal judge ruled yesterday that the Department of Transportation's random drug testing program is reasonable, discreet and properly justified.

U.S. District Court Judge Gerhard A. Gesell threw out a suit by the American Federation of Government Employees charging that the testing program is an unconstitutional search of federal employes without proof or reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed.

The Transportation Department's "duty to assure the integrity of its sensitive aviation and other critical jobs and to protect the public safety is undisputed," Gesell said. Its plan "reflects a high degree of concern for employe privacy interests and is carefully tailored to assure a minimum of intrusion."

AFGE President Kenneth T. Blaylock called the decision a "travesty."

"Ongoing random drug testing without reasonable suspicion or probable cause means that an outstanding federal career can be flushed away by an erroneous urinalysis result," he said.

Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole, on her last day in office, said she was "heartened" by the decision. "This program helps give the American people what they expect and deserve -- a drug-free transportation system," she said in a statement.

The department began random computer-selected tests of employes on Sept. 10 and has tested 125 people, according to Melissa Allen, deputy assistant secretary for administration. All results have been negative, she said.

The department has said it expects to test 300 people a month for use of marijuana, cocaine, opiates, PCP or amphetamines. Gesell said these people are in jobs "concerned with public health, safety, national security and law enforcement; jobs which involve duties calling for the highest degree of trust and confidence." He said 94 percent of the covered employes hold aviation-related positions.

The union contended that the purpose of the testing is law enforcement, not safety, and that previous tests where employes have been given advance notice have failed to turn up significant illegal drug use. Many covered DOT employes are not in critical jobs, the AFGE argued, and the government has failed to show that recent drug use, "medically speaking," affects employe efficiency.

Gesell rejected each of the union's arguments, saying that the department realizes that criminal law enforcement has not eliminated illegal drug use and feels "an obligation to protect public safety." The fact that employes given advance notice were drug-free bears "little or no relationship" to what may occur from random testing, he said.

The union failed to prove that "noncritical" employes were being tested, he said. The government did prove that drug use, at the level of the tests, "generally impairs" the normal functioning of workers, the judge said.

Blaylock said the ruling "won't stop AFGE from continuing its court battles . . . even to the Supreme Court." The Supreme Court has not decided whether to hear another drug case attacking a Customs Service drug testing program.