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Drug Testing Authorized for House of Representatives, Staff


February 1997

On January 7, the first day of the 105th Congress, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 226 to 202 in favor of about 20 changes to rules governing the House, including a provision to require members and their staffs to be tested for illegal drug use (Stephen Barr, "Drug-Test Program Approved by House For Members, Staff," Washington Post, January 8, 1997, p. A23; Molly R. Parrish, "House Takes a Step Toward Drug Testing on Capitol Hill," Drug Detection Report, January 21, 1997, p. 5).

Under the provision, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), in consultation with House minority leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO), is instructed to develop a drug testing program that "may provide for the testing of any member, officer or employee of the House," and should be "comparable in scope" to the drug testing program used by the executive branch. House Rules Committee Chairman Gerald Solomon (R-NY), who offered the proposal, said the House "should be no different than others when it comes to ensuring a drug-free workplace, and this is going to help us do that." Republicans hope to implement a program by the end of February.

Before the rule change, House members could not use official office accounts to pay for drug testing. The new rule allows drug tests to be considered "applicable expenses" and paid for with Congressional accounts. Because of the old rule, drug testing in the House was rare. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), who has required drug testing for his staff and himself at his own expense, says he hopes the new program will require members to be randomly tested for drugs.

Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) calls the plan "ill-advised." Congressman Paul said an "unreasonable effort at identifying the occasional and improbable drug user should not replace respect to our privacy." Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) agrees. Frank suggests that members should be tested for ignorance instead. "What caused more damage to the country, drug use or ignorant [House] members?" Frank asked, adding, "One test could be any member stupid enough to vote for drug testing." (Katharine, "Drug Tests? Congress Says, 'Sign Us Up,'" New York Times, January 12, 1997, p. E2).

Testing has existed in the executive branch since 1986, when President Reagan required testing for employees in "sensitive positions," usually handling classified documents or holding jobs related to public safety. Currently executive drug testing, which excludes the President and the Vice President, covers about 1.8 million civilian government workers in 120 federal agencies at a cost of about $10 million each year (or an average of $57 for each test). Although the latest data, from October 1994 to March 1995, shows that less than 1% of executive branch employees tested positive, the tests are believed to deter drug use.

The Senate will consider the issue of drug testing its members early this year, according to Senator John Warner (R-VA), chairman of the Senate Rules Committee.