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Federal Programs Must Assess Impact on Family

September 04, 1987|LEE MAY and JAMES GERSTENZANG | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — President Reagan, in an effort to appease disenchanted conservative supporters, Thursday signed an executive order requiring the government to assess all federal programs, including welfare, housing and education, for their impact on families.

In the assessment, Administration officials will ask whether the programs "take authority away from parents," whether they take away family income and what message the programs send to children "about their behavior and responsibilities," said Gary L. Bauer, the President's chief adviser on domestic policy.

"If these programs would injure the family, that would be grounds for stopping or changing them--so they have, at the very least, a neutral impact," Bauer declared in an interview.

The order is one of a series of actions Reagan has taken to satisfy conservative critics, including his announced plan to curb federal financing to organizations that provide counseling and referrals for abortions. He also has announced the formation of an interagency task force to promote adoption as "an alternative for pregnant women" who may be considering abortion.

Encompasses Current Programs

The executive order, signed by Reagan in California, is even more than conservatives could have hoped for because it includes every Cabinet post and executive agency. It also encompasses current programs, not just new ones. One Administration official, noting Reagan's disfavor among his once-solid base of conservatives, says: "They are going to be ecstatic about this."

In Santa Barbara, a senior White House official said that the executive order represents an effort by the President to carry out one of the elements of the "economic bill of rights" he announced July 3. That proposal called for a statement to accompany spending legislation explaining where the revenue would come from and how much programs would cost in the future.

The official, who requested anonymity, also said that the order would demonstrate Reagan's continued interest in the issue, even while the President and much of the government are on vacation in Santa Barbara. The order constitutes a program "that will stay in place not just for the next 16 months" but after Reagan leaves office, the official said.

Due in Six Months

Under the order, Bauer's office will be empowered to make the assessments. He said that he will enlist several experts who will sift through the programs and that he will "outline my plan of action over the Labor Day weekend and start Tuesday" on the evaluations. The order directs Bauer to submit to the President a report on existing programs within six months.

Discussing the order's potential impact, Bauer said that several welfare programs from the 1960s and 1970s "have hurt the poor family or the minority family" and might have been modified "if they had been examined a little more closely at the time."

As an example, he mentioned single, teen-aged mothers receiving subsidized housing and aid to families with dependent children. Bauer said research shows that, if a young woman stays at home after having a child out of wedlock, she is unlikely to have more children.

However, if she starts a household of her own, she likely will "end up having a second and a third out of wedlock," Bauer said.

Increasingly Influential

An increasingly influential conservative force in the Administration, Bauer likened the new evaluation approach to the environmental impact statements that must be submitted for federal building projects.

Taking a swipe at politicians who cater to "special interests," he called the family "the most important special interest group of all," asserting that the new order "goes a long way toward forcing the bureaucracy to thinking about families."

In the order is a list of several questions under a section called "Family Policy-making Criteria." Among them:

--"Does this action by government strengthen or erode the stability of the family and, particularly, the marital commitment?"

--Could the activity "be carried out by a lower level of government or by the family itself?"

--Does the government action "help the family perform its functions or does it substitute governmental activity for the function?"

Lee May reported from Washington and James Gerstenzang from Santa Barbara.

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