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Ruling Requiring Drug Tests For E.D. Drivers Challenged

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Washington--A federal employees' union is challenging a U.S. District Court ruling that would require nine Education Department drivers to submit to random drug testing and leave all employees open to "reasonable suspicion" testing.

The American Federation of Government Employees says U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green's July 1989 decision upholding a part of the department's drug-testing plan is inconsistent with the Civil Service Act and with employees' Fourth Amendment right to privacy. (See Education Week, Sept. 6, 1989.)

Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for Oct. 26 before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Unlike high-level employees, a brief filed last month by the employees' union argues, drivers do not expect to relinquish their privacy rights when they become employed by the department.

Moreover, the union's brief argues, for reasonable-suspicion testing, the department "neither asserts, nor in fact possesses, any comparably compelling interest in preventing off-duty drug use that does not affect job performance."

But the department maintains in a brief it filed late last month that two of its nine drivers should be subject to testing because they chauffeur the secretary, undersecretary, and foreign dignitaries and domestic officials who do business with the department. Those drivers' responsibilities "include avoiding possible terrorist attacks, determining the safest and most efficient travel routes ... and deng highly sensitive documents."

The other seven drivers, the brief says, transport passengers and packages to 19 satellite locations within a 500-mile radius of Washington and need to be drug-free to carry out their jobs in a safe manner.

All department employees should be subject to "reasonable suspicion'' testing because, the department's brief says, "illicit drug users are more likely than non-users to experience illnesses, injuries, job turnover, absences, and firings."

Neither the union nor the department is appealing Judge Green's ruling that 88 data processors should be exempt from the drug-testing plan because the department had not shown a "compelling interest" in testing them.

In addition, the union declined to challenge Judge Green's ruling that the secretary's body guard and 13 employees with access to "top-secret information with national-security implications" were subject to random drug tests.

Meanwhile, the Interior Department is redefining the pool of employees who will be subject to drug tests, said David L. Mathews, manager of the agency's drug program.

U.S. District Judge Harold H. Greene in January 1989 issued an injunction against the department's program, which includes Bureau of Indian Affairs teachers and employees, saying that the "sweep of the department's program is breathtaking." (See Education Week, Feb. 8, 1989.)

Mr. Mathews said it is likely that the testing pool will continue to include bia teachers and employees.

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