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Lawmakers Hit Reagan on Minority-Contracts Issues

Times Staff Writer

The Reagan Administration’s civil rights enforcement was attacked Thursday by a conservative Republican congressman, who denounced it as a “tower of Babel,” and three House panel chairmen, who accused Assistant Atty. Gen. William Bradford Reynolds of misrepresenting facts about affirmative action.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) told a hearing of the House Judiciary subcommittee on civil and constitutional rights that the “Administration has woefully mishandled” attempts to modify a 1965 executive order mandating affirmative action in federal contracting.

“This has dragged on for almost nine months,” he said. “It’s beginning to look like watching a Laurel and Hardy movie.”

Calls Statements Contradictory

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In addition, Sensenbrenner condemned “confusing,” contradictory statements from the Administration about its position on minority set-aside programs in construction work. Under such programs, some contracts on a construction site are reserved for firms owned by minority members or women. Outside the hearing, he said that he was making the critical comments in the hope of prodding the Administration into breaking the stalemate over modifying the executive order.

Reynolds, testifying on the budget request for the Justice Department’s civil rights division, acknowledged that there is “a need to have a resolution of statements going in different directions.”

The Administration appreciates the need to clarify,” he said, indicating that a statement attempting to do so would be issued in “the near future.”

“We heard that nine months ago,” Sensenbrenner said.

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Cites Legal Briefs

Reynolds urged that legal briefs filed in court should be studied by those with questions about the Administration’s civil rights policies.

At a press conference before the hearing, Reynolds was criticized by the three Democratic panel chairmen, all Californians, because of his March 28 release of 56 Labor Department cases that he said illustrated that federal contractors were being forced to adopt discriminatory employment quotas under the executive order.

Rep. Matthew G. Martinez (D-Monterey Park), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee’s employment opportunities subcommittee, dismissed Reynolds’ examples as “sheer, unadulterated bunk . . . that are irresponsible and anti-civil rights.”

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Cases Called Unrepresentative

Rep. Don Edwards (D-San Jose), chairman of the civil and constitutional rights subcommittee, said the 56 cases cited by Reynolds amounted to .04 of 1% of the 157,000 federal contractors and subcontractors subject to the program--and that none of the 56 actually contained any quotas.

However, Reynolds contended at the hearing that the 56 were “but a small number of a considerably larger number in (Labor Department) files” and that they “clearly demonstrate” that the affirmative action program operates on a racially preferential basis.

Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, linked Reynolds’ quota examples with what he said is “a deliberate refusal to enforce the nation’s civil rights laws” by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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