THE Reagan administration continues to press for change in the way job discrimination against minorities and women is combated. The latest evidence of this is a proposal under consideration at the White House to abandon longstanding requirements that companies holding federal contracts set numerical goals for hiring women and members of minority groups. If taken, this action would be consistent with the President's well-known opposition to the use of quotas or numerical goals in affirmative-action programs. This view has previously resulted in the administration's intervention in court cases involving municipal programs for hiring more minority members.
President Reagan simply does not like numerical goals, contending that they result in reverse discrimination against whites. His previous attorney general, William French Smith, agreed with and acted upon that conviction; the new attorney general, Edwin Meese III, is if anything more strongly committed to that view. The assistant attorney general for civil rights, William Bradford Reynolds, is an equally zealous foe of numerical goals.
But apparently not all key administration officials are so certain that a policy adopted by President Johnson in 1968 and maintained through the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations should be discarded. Labor Secretary William Brock has yet to be heard from, at least publicly; he and others should be listened to when the Cabinet Council on Domestic Policy takes up the matter. The President needs to consider a wide range of views -- inside and outside the government -- before repealing the affir mative-action requirements of Executive Order 11426. Civil rights and labor spokesmen are unanimous in support of the existing policy. Many employers with federal contracts have apparently been able to meet the requirements of the executive order.
At the base of this continuing debate is the perplexing question of whether it is possible to redress past injustices caused by discrimination on the basis of sex, race, or national origin without at least appearing to discriminate against those groups that benefited from that past discrimination. It is encouraging to note that, at least in a number of cases, cities and private companies have successfully negotiated this tricky passage.
We believe the existing policy should be continued.