Will President Reagan rescuer the federal Civil Service system from a major blunder of the Carter Administration, a blunder committed literally hours before Carter left office? That is the question on the table with respect to whether Atty. Gen. William French Smith will sign a final consent decree now pending in federal District Court, which would impose quotas for hiring minorities who applied for 118 crucial mid-management positions in the federal government.
A storm of controversy is brewing in the administration over whether the President should litigate the suit (Luevana v. Devine) which charges that the federal government’s basic management hiring examination, the Professional and Administrative Career Examination (PACE), unlawfully discriminates against minorities. The alternative is to cave in to pressure from civil rights groups and ratify the agreement made by the Carter administration. Privately, the director of the Office of Personnel Management, the civil service agency which administers the exam, Dr. Donald J. Devine, has urged the white House to scuttle the Carter agreement and to fight in court, if necessary. In reaching this decision, Devine was aided by a potent memo from Joseph Morris, the new acting general counsel of OPM.
The Administration must make up its mind before the end of this month because of the deadline set by Federal District Judge Joyce Hens Green for final settlement of the case.
How did the President get boxed into this position? In the waning hours of the Carter administration, the Justice Department settlement agreement with left-wing civil rights groups sue because a disproportionate number of Hispanics and blacks flunked the PACE exam.
In an almost literal “midnight maneuver,” former President Carter’s associate attorney general, John Shenefield, agreed the government would phase out the PACE exam and, until a new exam could be devised which produced the “right number” of passing grades for monitories, would require all agencies now administering the test to make “all practicable efforts” to eliminate the “adverse impact” cause by the PACE exam.
Shortly thereafter, the new Reagan Administration intervened in the case, and was able to make some minor improvement sin the Carter-drawn decree. But Carter career holdovers in the Justice Department fought hard against any real reconsideration of the case, and Atty. Gen. Smith was persuaded to sign off on it.
Then an interesting thing happened: The left-wing lawyers who fought the case asked the judge to hold the decree open for objections form blacks and Hispanics who felt that the Reagan-modified decree now didn’t go far enough. No opportunity for comment was given, however, to any of the 46 agencies besides the Justice Department – some of them legislative and independent bodies, like the General Accounting Office and the Federal Reserve System – who will have to live with the ruling. Unless the Reagan Administration acts soon, the decree with become final.
No one has charged that anyone in the government purposely excluded blacks or Hispanics from employment, only that not enough minorities passed the exam. Even the normally liberal Washington Post found the agreement hard to swallow. In an editorial the Post noted that “there is something that goes profoundly against the grain about the notion of fiddling with a supposedly objective test until it passes the ‘right’ people.”
William Raspberry, a Post columnist who also happens to be black, wrote that “it may be the most absurd affirmative action proposal since the Cleveland school official ordered that the city’s high school basketball teams must henceforth be at least 20% white.”
If Regan signs off on the final court decree, the government will then officially sanction quotas and destroy the principle that applicants to the civil service should be hired according to merit. In effect, the Reagan Administration would do the job that the Carter Administration wasn’t able to finish.
By abolishing the PACE exam, the Administration would be accepting the argument that the test is invalid. Yet, there is no persuasive evidence to support that contention.
In a recent article in the government’s own Management magazine, physiologists Frank L. Schmidt and John E. Hunter claim that tests such as PACE do not discriminate, that they test the same things for minority groups as for the majority. Furthermore, a general aptitude test such as PACE can be a valid indicator of success in any number of positions; it need not e “job specific.” As the plaintiffs in the suit against the government allege.
Schmidt and Hunter found that lowering qualifications standards to meet goals and timetables in the private sector decreased overall productivity in the firm among all employees. When the General Electric junked its placement exams to avoid a discrimination suit, it was able to meet its hiring goals. The problem was that the new employees were not qualified for promotion so that “GE had merely transferred the adverse impact from the hiring stage to the promotion stage.”
And underlying problem of this all, however, is with the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures. They are a set of rules adopted by the Carter Administration, governing all public and private hiring, which would be enshrined in federal hiring under the PACE consent decree. Under the guidelines, a minority group would be considered adversely affected dif the appointment rate for that group were not at least 80 per cent of the rate for whites.
The guidelines have been criticized roundly in several quarters. The American Psychological Association has formally urged the government to revise the guidelines according to the current research findings.
Any number of reasons explaining why minorities and women have been “under represented” in various professions have been posited by noted authorities. Black economist Thomas Sowell has discovered that age and demographic differences among various groups explain disparities in employment status better than do race and ethnic origins. Sowell’s research indicates that the ration of black income to white income peaked by 1970, before affirmative action became solidity entrenched as it is today. Because of such findings, Sowell has dared to call affirmative action “the noble lie of our times.”
It is interesting that the government’s own statistics sometimes don’t show any “under representation of minorities.” In fact, according to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, the federal government last year issued statistics, derived from a complicated formula used for determining imbalances in federal hiring, which showed that white males were not being hired in sufficient numbers.
The Department of Health and Human Services, a leading advocate of affirmative action in the Carter Administration, likewise put together a convoluted formula for setting hiring goals. To the chagrin of quota-crazed HHS took no steps to alter its quotas accordingly.
If the government really wants to hire a work force that “represents” the American population as a whole, then it should hire a “proper sociological caucus” which, according to sociologist Pierre van den Berghe, consists of:
“Two blacks (one man one woman); one Chicano (or Chicano on alternate elections); one person to be, in alphabetical rotation, American, Asian, and Eskimo, and 16 white Anglos. Or the latter, eight will have to be men and eight women; 14 will have to be heterosexual and two homosexual (one of these has to be a lesbian); one Jewish, 10 Protestant, four Roman Catholic; and one, in alphabetical rotation, Buddhist, Mormon and Muslim; 15 will have to be sighted and one bland; eight must be juvenile, four mature and four senile; and tow must be intelligent, 10 mediocre, and four stupid.”
Yes, if the government wants to hire according to arbitrary quotas, it can. But does it or should it? The Civil Service was established in order to provide an objective system for the hiring of public employees. The government goes to great pains to protect federal workers from political forces. Yet, in the words of the Wall street Journal, the proposed consent decree represents the “return of the spoilsman.”
President Reagan does have time to act. He can put his foot down, refuse to approve the decree and ask the court or Congress to settle once and for all the question of whether our society is to be governed by the principle that each of our citizens has a right to be judged according to merit, instead of race or ethnic background.
The 1980 Republican Platform makes clear that the party rejects quotas, “ goals and timetables,” and any other schemes to implement discrimination. The platform states that “equal opportunity should not be jeopardized by bureaucratic regulations and decision which rely on rations and numerical requirements to exclude some individual sin favor of others, thereby rendering such regulations and decisions inherently discriminatory.”
No one has said it better than President Reagan himself. Before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People just recently, he declared that this Administration will meet the challenges ahead with “new ideas, not old ones.” This administration is committed to “equal treatment of all citizens” (emphasis added). And in this quest, President Reagan bluntly told his audience, “we will not concede the moral high ground.”