A Justice Department report prepared for President Reagan concludes that "considerable progress has been made" toward eliminating discrimination against women in federal laws and rules but "the fight against sex discrimination is not yet over."
The document is the administration's first attempt to identify barriers to women in federal statutes and programs, an effort that began in 1976 but was never finished.
A copy of the report, sent to President Reagan on June 28 from the Justice Department's Task Force on Legal Equality for Women, was made available to reporters yesterday after correspondent Sarah McClendon accused the president, at his Wednesday night news conference, of suppressing it.
It wasn't suppressed, but Justice Department officials also went to unusual lengths to make sure it wasn't released. Following orders from the White House, they allowed reporters to examine the document but not make copies.
The president said at his news conference that he hadn't received the report. Deputy White House press secretary Larry Speakes said later he had been briefed on it in a meeting with the task force that wrote it and another group searching out sex discrimination in state laws.
William Bradford Reynolds, assistant attorney general for civil rights, who signed the document sent to Reagan, was asked whether the administration is embarrassed by anything in the report. "Nothing, absolutely nothing," he said.
Reynolds said the purpose of the task force was to "identify anything that talks of one gender only" and complete surveying federal rules for sex discrimination, an ongoing effort since 1976. Reynolds said possible remedies to discrimination would come later. The president ordered the task force report last Dec. 21.
A 1978 survey determined that 3,000 sections of the federal code had some form of sex bias, but the Justice Department task force concluded that the majority were not that important or have been changed. "The dimension of the statutory problem . . . while not inconsequential, is plainly not overwhelming," the report concludes.
While there are "a sizable number of federal statutes" written in masculine terms, the task force found that "sex-biased terminology in most instances under federal law has little substantive importance."
Still, the report determined that there are "substantive sections" of federal laws that differentiate on the basis of sex. "For the most part . . . they are in five categories: military, Social Security, welfare, spousal and family benefits, and immigration," the document said.
An effort to determine which federal rules discriminate on basis of sex was launched several years ago, the report said, and 63 agencies responded. However, two departments, Health and Human Services and Education, have not yet identified sex bias in their rules, the task force said.
Twenty-two of the agencies found "no substantive distinctions" between men and women in their rules. Five others found problems and corrected them, such as the NASA's effort to recruit more women astronauts. Of the remaining 34 agencies, "specific instances of sex bias practices or procedures have been identified in one form or another," and the task force will focus on "corrective action," the report said.
The report concluded that "considerable progress has been made toward the goal of attaining legal equity for women in the statutes and regulations of the United States government. Most gender-based barriers have today been eliminated and, with their removal, women in dramatically increasing numbers are taking their rightful place alongside men in all fields of endeavor."
"This heartening progress does not suggest, however, that we can now rest on recent accomplishments," the report concluded. "The fight against sex discrimination is not yet over . . . ."
Also yesterday, administration officials said they are searching for a site in the West to host an international economic summit meeting next year. The front-running choices are Pebble Beach, Calif., and Jackson Hole, Wyo., officials said. The summit, traditionally held in June, will be hosted by the United States next year, and Reagan has expressed a desire to hold it somewhere in the scenic West.