A group of 24 House Republicans led by Hamilton Fish of New York and M. Caldwell Butler of Virginia introduced a bill yesterday to restructure the civil rights activities of the federal government by centralizing almost all enforcement in the Justice Department.
While they stopped short of criticizing the Reagan administration directly, staff members said many of the 24 have been embarrassed by the administration's record on civil rights enforcement and want to make that clear.
"Our federal enforcement system is characterized by a lack of leadership, poor management, confusion over procedures, undue delay in solving complaints and jurisdictional overlaps and inconsistencies," Butler said.
But he said it is the enforcement structure, not any specific administration, that is responsible.
"At present, there are over 40 federal statutes regulating equal opportunity, over 35 federal agencies enforcing civil rights laws and over 100 federal agencies assuring non-discrimination in the programs they administer," he said.
Fish said the administration, including the Justice Department, had been provided copies of the bill, but he said there has been no response. An aide said the Justice Department ignored requests to discuss the legislation.
Members of the civil rights community consulted by Republicans who drafted the legislation said that while they support certain provisions of the bill, they will not endorse it.
"We think the problem is this administration's lack of commitment to civil rights, not a restructuring of the bureaucracy," said Donna Lenhoff of the Women's Legal Defense Fund. "The existing apparatus for civil rights enforcement is being severely undermined. We think it is a mistake to consolidate civil rights enforcement in the Department of Justice . . . when that department is leading the retreat from strong civil rights enforcement."
Fish said he hoped hearings on the measure, expected to start this month, can be used as a forum to examine the government record in civil rights enforcement.