GUARDING THE GUARDS

LET THE COURTS DECIDE the question of whether President Reagan's executive order on testing of federal employees for use of illegal drugs violates the constitutional guarantees against unreasonable searches and seizures. Similarly, the issues of the validity of such tests and their margin of error are matters for the experts.

We'd like to focus in on one of the notions in the order and its logical shortcomings. That's the provision requiring federal agency and department heads to establish programs for testing subordinates occupying sensitive positions.The executive order's definition of such positions has five subsections. While they provide some guidance, the net impression is that the definition, like life, is what you make of it.

The logical shortcomings? No specific inclusion of a) supervisors ordering the testing of employees and b) those who conduct the tests. Who will guard the guards? the Latin author Juvenal asked in an apparent reference to the Roman custom of hiring town guards to prevent infidelity among wives whose husbands were away.

The reference isn't apropos, but the question is. Why restrict the logical scope of the president's order to monitoring only those in sensitive positions? Why not test their supervi sors who are responsible for what those employees do in their sensitive jobs and whose faculties presumably should be equally unimpaired by illegal drug use? Similar logic would require testing those who administer the tests (and those who test them?). They will be dealing with the sensitive matter of the careers of others and should be drug- free when doing so.

And those two groups need not mark the outer boundaries of the order's logic. What about employees - and, of course, their supervisors - in private companies contracting with the federal government or at least with those departments and agencies doing sensitive work? We ought to be able to depend, for example, on those who make the aircraft controller's computer as well as on the controller.

Do we widen the testing circle still further to include consumption of alcohol and thereby guard against those who just had one beer, officer? We'd rather make the point that the seriousness of this country's war against illegal drugs demands that we use great care in choosing the weapons and tactics to fight that war.

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