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Drug Testing Urged for Capitol Hill, Some Lose Hair Over It


October 1996

After signing the legislative appropriations bill on September 18, President Clinton blasted Congress for failing to require drug testing for its own employees (Ed Henry, "President Clinton Hits Hill For Not Drug-Testing Staff," Roll Call, September 19, 1996, p. 1; Deborah Mathis, Gannett News Service, "Taking a Test," USA Today, September 19, 1996, p. 6A).

Congress has "passed up yet another opportunity to establish a drug testing policy for those who work in the legislative branch. The Congress should follow the example of the White House and other executive branch agencies and establish a comprehensive testing program for illegal drug use," Clinton said. Congressional drug testing is currently left to the discretion of individual members, and only a few members have required their staffs to take a test.

In the wake of a Roll Call story that said the White House has a more stringent standard against drug use than Congressional offices do, House Speaker Newt Gingrich vowed to push for drug testing of all federal employees. "I'd be willing to pass [legislation for drug testing] in September, including applying it to all the people who work for the legislative branch," Gingrich said in August.

House Rules Committee Chairman Gerald Solomon (R-NY) pledged to change the rules to require Congressional drug testing and called on his colleagues to "set an example for the rest of government and the private sector." Representative Joe Barton (R-TX), who has required testing for himself and his staff since 1989, recently introduced a proposal requiring 10% of House Members to submit to a random drug test each month. Barton said the results would be available to the public a month before Election Day.

On September 18, House members submitted to a voluntary drug test organized by Barton called "Member Drug Testing Day." Thirty-nine Democrats and Republicans spent $30 and submitted a lock of hair for a test, for a variety of drugs used within the past 90 days. A few members opted for urinalysis. The results of these tests by Psychmedics Corporation will be available in 48 hours and sent only to the Members of Congress. In a September 16 "Dear Colleague" letter, Barton said, "We all need to send a clear and consistent message to young people that drug abuse is dangerous." Some Representatives commented that the event was just a political stunt. "It's just election-year demagoguery," said Representative John Bryant (D-TX), who didn't participate (Associated Press, "On the Hill, Losing Hair in an Anti-Drug Test," Washington Post, September 19, 1996, p. A14).