The Reagan administration, criticized last month for a draft statement on national urban policy that minimized the federal role in helping troubled American cities, issued the final version yesterday. Its tone was subdued, but the basic message was intact.
In an important shift from the policies of previous administrations, the final report underscores President Reagan's view that cities must look to the private sector and to economic recovery for help instead of expecting more federal aid. The document envisions little direct federal responsibility for urban economic and social difficulties, saying they can best be handled locally.
"The basis of the Reagan administration's urban policy is to place the highest priority on economic growth as the most important element . . . and to seek to restore the balance of authority and responsibility among the three levels of government," the document says.
The report, made public by Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Samuel R. Pierce Jr., was scrubbed clean of the controversial language that touched off a furor last month at the U.S. Conference of Mayors' annual meeting in Minneapolis.
The earlier version of the report concluded that federal aid had weakened the nation's cities and that mayors had been transformed from "bold leaders of self-reliant cities to wily stalkers of federal aid."
The final report praises the initiative of city officials and promises that the Reagan program will "offer broader opportunities for urban leaders."
By law, an urban policy statement must be sent to Congress every two years. This is the first time it has been written by the Reagan administration, and the basic thrust of the document is a marked departure from that taken by previous Democratic and Republican presidents, who emphasized federal aid as the answer for a blighted urban landscape.
Such a shift in direction was denounced by many big-city Democratic mayors last month. Detroit Mayor Coleman Young complained of a "disposable cities" urban policy that abandoned the traditional federal commitment to helping depressed cities that cannot recover on their own.
Next week, Congress' Joint Economic Committee begins hearings on the urban policy, with Pierce as the leadoff witness, followed by a parade of city officials--including Young--many of whom have voiced doubts about the new policy.
At the mayors conference in Minneapolis, a resolution was approved calling for increased federal emphasis on new urban housing, transportation and economic development, as well as rebuilding the "infrastructure" of roads, bridges and sewers that are crumbling in many cities.
The Reagan policy--in a section not in the draft copy but which was added to the final report--concludes that the federal government "has a role to play" in helping blighted cities, but says federal assistance will come, in part, by "gathering information" and "disseminating the results" to local officials. "Other aspects of federal aid remain to be determined," it says.
"The mayors are certainly going to be anxious to know what those are," said Michael Brown, a spokesman for the mayors conference.
Echoing a major theme of the administration's "New Federalism," the urban policy report says that cities often fall into decay because of events that cannot be arrested by the federal government.
The document says "it is the position of this administration" that cities will be better off if Washington allows people to "pursue their own interests" instead of trying "to protect them from the consequences of the inevitable changes to the status quo."
Among the few specific initiatives the administration will offer the cities, the report mentions experimental urban enterprise zones to "strengthen the free-market environment in depressed areas," and a voucher program for low-income housing to allow the poor to choose their housing.
The document also concludes that economic recovery "is not expected to be a panacea to all urban problems" and that "national attention" must be focused on "the pervasive problems of crime and infrastructure needs."