WASHINGTON — A dispute among Cabinet members over repealing a 20-year-old affirmative action order is on the way toward resolution, with mandatory hiring goals replaced by voluntary goals, it was reported Saturday.
White House spokesman Rusty Brashear said efforts may be under way to settle the dispute between Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III and Labor Secretary William E. Brock III, but the White House "is not involved in that story," the New York Times reported.
The newspaper said that Brock and Meese "were moving toward an agreement" by using the word "voluntary" to describe a federal contractor's responsibilities to hire more minority and women workers.
No White House Comment
The White House, sensitive about the political implications of the dispute, has not commented at all, except to say in November it was likely nothing would be done for some time.
Sources close to the negotiations said the issue was still "on hold," with no decisions close at hand.
Ralph Neas, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said: "There is an extraordinary bipartisan consensus on behalf of the existing executive order in the business community, on Capitol Hill and even in the Administration. A decision to weaken it would precipitate a political firestorm."
If the reported agreement is accepted, and President Reagan revises the 1965 executive order issued by President Lyndon B. Johnson, it would represent a victory for Meese, who had earlier sought to revoke the order.
The measure requires 15,000 federal contractors employing 23 million people at 73,000 locations to establish goals and timetables for increasing employment of minorities and women.
Reagan has long opposed "quotas," but his position on goals and timetables is unclear.
By adopting "voluntary" language, Meese and his allies, including Civil Rights Commission Chairman Clarence M. Pendleton Jr., would steer affirmative action away from quotas and mandatory action.
At the same time, Brock and allies, including Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole and Housing Secretary Samuel R. Pierce Jr., could argue to minorities that the executive order remained in place.
Civil rights groups have mobilized 69 senators and 180 representatives, along with many business groups who say they have benefited by the order, to oppose changes.