1. Archive

A lax attitude on drug use

Published Sep. 16, 2005

The White House has admitted to snooping through FBI files belonging to members of previous administrations, but it should have been more concerned about its current staff. Turns out, more than a few have a history of illegal drug use.

According to congressional testimony released last week, the Clinton administration persuaded the Secret Service in 1994 to issue permanent White House passes to employees who admitted to having used illegal drugs _ including crack, cocaine and hallucinogens _ with some frequency. The Secret Service rightly balked at issuing the passes, fearing such drug use would compromise security. But the Clinton administration pressed the issue, eventually cutting a deal that allowed the employees to get their passes.

The deal requires those employees to refrain from using drugs and submit to unannounced drug tests twice a year. That is far too infrequent, given the potency and addictiveness of the drugs some have admitted taking. Testing at least once a month would make more sense.

White House spokesman Mike McCurry emphasized that none of the employees in the frequent testing program holds a top White House post, though the White House has refused to identify them either by name or position. McCurry didn't help matters when he tried to defend the White House decision to overrule the Secret Service by using his own past drug use as an example. "I was a kid in the 1970s," he said. "You know, did I smoke a joint from time to time? Of course."

Bob Dole was right to call McCurry's comments "cavalier." But he should think twice before trying to make too much of the issue. After all, it was Dole who convinced the Senate to approve an admitted drug user for a post in the the Bush administration in 1990. The Senate confirmed Timothy Ryan, an admitted marijuana smoker and cocaine user, as director of the Office of Thrift Supervision after Dole passionately defended him.

"What (Ryan) may have done 17 years ago is over," Dole said, adding that if previous drug use precluded future work in public service, "we're going to wipe out a generation who may have experimented at one time or another with some drug."

Holding youthful drug use against a person for life is indeed unfair. But some White House employees apparently had much more recent acquaintance with the worst kind of illegal drugs. Hiring them at all may have been unwise. Testing them only twice a year is inadequate.