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Drug Tests at White House Get OK

March 2, 1998 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court today allowed random drug testing for some federal employees with access to the Old Executive Office Building, next door to the White House.

The justices, without comment, let stand a ruling that said the drug tests are justified as one way to protect the president and vice president.

Two Office of Management and Budget employees had urged the nation’s highest court to rule that administering the tests without any ``probable cause″ to suspect drug use violates their privacy rights.

The appeals acted on today contended that a federal appeals court ruling allowing random testing of OMB staffers ``massively expands the narrow exceptions ... recognized to the Fourth Amendment’s general requirement of probable cause.″

The amendment bans unreasonable searches and seizures.

``Taken to its logical end, the (appeals court) decision would permit random testing of virtually any federal employee in the Washington area, since almost any such employee may have access to buildings frequented by members of the Cabinet, members of Congress or justices of this court, whose safety are important governmental interests,″ the appeal said.

President Reagan issued an executive order in 1986 requiring the head of each executive-branch agency to establish a drug-testing program for employees in sensitive jobs.

Arthur Stigile and Ellen Balis, both financial economists, already were OMB employees assigned to work in the New Executive Office Building, a few blocks from the White House, when in 1988 a drug-free workplace plan affecting them was put into place. Both occasionally attend meetings at the Old Executive Office Building.

The vice president has an office there, and the president frequently visits the building.

When notified in 1996 that he had been selected for testing, Stigile immediately challenged the testing program in court. Balis, who had not been selected for testing, joined him in the lawsuit.

A federal judge ruled that the random testing violating the Fourth Amendment, but the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed that ruling last April.

``The harm that the government is seeking to avoid has the necessary immediate connection to the risk posed by a drug-using employee,″ the appeals court said.

Lawyers for Stigile and Balis told the justices that the April ruling is built on ``unsupported speculation″ that, without random testing, some OMB employees would use illegal drugs and their drug use would lead to an attempt to harm the president or vice president.

Clinton administration lawyers urged the court to reject the appeal.

``Agencies charged with protecting the president and vice president are permitted, within reason, to anticipate novel security threats and to act to avert them,″ the government lawyers argued.

``No president was ever killed in a theater until Lincoln, in a railway station until Garfield, in a reception line until McKinley, in an open car until Kennedy. The government is entitled to address such threats before they materialize into actual assassination attempts,″ they said.

The case is Stigile v. Clinton, 97-837.