- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 26, 2013

The State Department is pushing a new initiative to ensure contractors and others serving in the department’s diplomatic security corps in Afghanistan and Israel are not abusing opiates, amphetamines, steroids, cocaine and other hard drugs.

Recent weeks saw the department solicit bids from private companies to carry out “random and nonrandom substance testing” on a “semiannual basis” of some 1,625 career employees and contractors based in Afghanistan and 55 based in Israel.

A contract solicitation posted on the Internet on April 29 and most recently updated Friday calls it “critically important” that “armed employees, or those employees exposed to extreme conditions, be reliable, stable, and show good use of judgment.”

“Illegal drug and steroid use creates the possibility of coercion, influence, and irresponsible action under pressure, all of which may pose a serious risk to national defense, public safety, and security,” the solicitation says.

Drug and alcohol abuse among security personnel in Afghanistan has triggered a spate of embarrassing headlines for the U.S. government in recent years.

One prominent example came in October, when a grainy cellphone video circulated through the America media showing a group of nearly nude young men — believed to be private security contractors in Afghanistan — staggering around under the apparent influence of alcohol and narcotics.

But the department, and specifically the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which is named in the posting, declined to comment on why the drug testing is being sought at this time, along with why it is specifically targeting employees in Afghanistan and Israel.

Nor would officials comment on whether the initiative is being pushed in response to a March 2012 audit by the State Department’s office of inspector general, which found that Foggy Bottom was not in compliance with federal regulations for drug testing of employees.

The audit found that “limited program emphasis and oversight” were resulting in “deficiencies” in the department’s existing drug-testing posture.

An analysis by The Washington Times found that the State Department has conducted some degree of drug testing since 2005. But the responsibility of testing security contractors in overseas posts has been left up to whatever private company was hired to provide such contractors.

During the past year, Foggy Bottom has sought to hire third-party companies to begin testing contractors based in Iraq. The push now to do the same in Afghanistan and Israel appears to be driven by a desire among State Department management to expand the initiative.

The 2012 inspector general’s audit, meanwhile, was sharply critical of the State Department’s lax posture toward drug testing.

“The Department’s Drug Free Workplace Plan does not include testing at overseas posts, even though 40 percent of the department’s employees in sensitive positions that are subject to drug testing are located overseas,” the audit says. “Moreover, the number of employees in sensitive positions subject to testing is only 1 percent, or approximately 190 employees, while the plan calls for 10 percent, or approximately 1,503 employees.”

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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