President Carter reaffirmed a commitment to civil rights yesterday but gave no hints of what he might do to translate that commitment into action, the White House said.
The President met for almost half an hour with the five members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which over the years has issued a string of detailed reports focusing on how federal agencies have failed to enfornce the civil rights aspects of their programs.
"He made the statement that he was deeply committed to civil rights," said aide Martha Mitchell, who sat in on the closed meeting. But "he did not spend a great deal of time on his own perceptions," she said, because "he was more interested in hearing what they had to say . . ."
The commission has had a lot to say about how the Carter administration ought to improve the enforcement of civil rights, although a White House spokesman said neither side brought up specific recommendations during the meeting.
In a report released June 14, the commission said federal civil rights enforcement was "never at a high level of effectiveness" under the Nixon or Ford administrations, because those president "did not successfully exercise leadership on behalf of civil rights programs."
The report urged Carter to assume responsibility for civil rights enforcement in his administration by, among other things, naming a Cabinet-level civil rights adviser with the authority to give orders to federal agencies, and setting up a division of civil rights within the Office of Management and Budget.
OMB the report said, has never effectively monitored the civil rights aspects of the programs of other agencies, despite repeated promises to do so.
In another report, released Feb. 15, the commission urged both Carter and Congress to make stronger federal enforcement of civil rights laws and regulations a "top priority."
Carter has never said publicly what he thinks of those recommendations. He has no top-level aides assigned to monitor civil rights enforcement and, according to sources who have seen the proposals made so far for reorganizing the White House staff, no such assignment is contemplated.
The one aide to domestic affairs adviser Stuart Eizenstat who is assigned to monitor civil rights enforcement has spent most of his time on other matters.
Carter did, in a handwritten note delivered in mid-February, reject the Commission's request for a "white House conference on desegregation.
"Your request . . . has been considered with care," the President wrote, "My Cabinet officers and I are now authority . . . I believe it is too early to call a conference, which would probably duplicate your own extant recommendations."
During the 60-second period just before the start of the meeting when reporters were allowed into the room, the President did pledge support for the commission.
He said he wanted to hear "how I can make your overall responsibilities more easy to realize . . . We are eager to learn how we can do a better job."
A special government reorgainzation study on civil rights enforcement is not expected to have initial recommendations ready for Carter until late September.