Government attorneys are pressing to conclude before the Reagan administration takes power a historic affirmative action agreement, guaranteeing minorities a larger share of better-paying federal jobs.
Under the proposed agreement, which would be in the form of a consent decree in federal court here, the government would junk the PACE exam. The most important civil service career examination, it has been charged with favoring whites over blacks and Hispanics in determining who gets some of the better federal professional and administrative jobs. The exam would be phased out over a five-year period.
Instead of PACE (Professional and Administrative Career Examination), federal agencies would be required to construct new tests guaranteeing that a much higher proportion of black and Hispanic candidates would end up passing the tests and getting the jobs.
The exams would seek to assure that the number of blacks and Hispanics getting jobs would be proportional to the number who took the tests. For example, if half the people taking an exam for a specific job were blacks and Hispanics, then about half (but no less than 40 percent) of all persons ending up with job appointments would have to be blacks and Hispanics.
If the exams did not produce these results, they would be further revised until they did or until it could be shown that the number of blacks and Hispanics already holding jobs in the category was at least 20 percent.
One government lawyer involved in the case said, "There is no question some of the government attorneys working on this case want to get the consent agreement settled before the Carter administration leaves," for fear that Reagan appointees would refuse to sanction it.
"People realize there is a transition going on," said another.
In recent weeks, there has been a flurry of activity in the case, resulting in the drafting of new consent decree proposals, which were reviewed by the Justice Department and attorneys for major federal agencies two weeks after the election.
The case has broad implications for federal employment policies and selection procedures. The PACE exam for a number of years has been the chief test by which people who have completed college and are selected for federal jobs at the GS 5, GS 7 and sometimes GS 9 entry level. It was designed as an objective method of finding people qualified to handle professional and career jobs, such as customs inspector, geographer, immigration agent, revenue officer, tax auditor.
In 1979, a total of 137,725 took the test and 6,283 were selected for jobs.
On Jan. 29, 1979, a group of blacks and Hispanics who failed to pass the April 1978 PACE sued the Office of Personnel Management. Critics of the test alleged it contains hidden biases against blacks and Hispanics and asks for general types of knowledge not required for the jobs. They said the test did not really measure the capacity of people to do the 118 categories of jobs for which it was used.
They said the test, whose passing grade is 70, has the effect of precluding blacks and Hispanics from federal jobs for which they are actually well qualified. Statistics in the proposed consent decree indicate that 42 percent of the whites who took the test early in 1978 got 70 or more, but only 5 percent of the blacks and 13 percent of the Hispanics.
So far the case, before Judge Joyce Hens Greens, has never come to trial. Instead, government lawyers and attorneys for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, which represents Angel Luevano and other plaintiffs, have been trying to negotiate a consent decree. Lawyers for the plaintiffs could not be reached for comment yesterday, but if no agreement is reached the case may go to trial.
If all parties okay the consent decree and send it to Judge Green before Ronald Reagan takes office, she could conceivably make it effective even if Reagan objects. The terms of the decree reportedly would allow the new administration time to comment, but once it is in the judge's hands, she would not be required to heed such comment.
Not all federal agencies are happy with the agreement. One attorney on the case said, "Essentially this is going to establish quotas."
Treasury and Internal Revenue Service, in a secret memorandum last summer, said the PACE exam has been a good test for picking good revenue officers, who are successful at getting money out of taxpayers.