A presidential advisory group on equality for women, established three years ago to ferret out federal laws that discriminate against women, went to the White House yesterday to brief President Reagan on its progress.
The group handed Reagan a report on what his administration had accomplished for women, including such "initiatives" as food stamps, school lunches, Head Start and Medicare.
Then Reagan and the advisory group watched a 10-minute slide show entitled "We Are Americans," in which the moderator announces that as a result of Reagan's economic policies, "American women are better off than ever before."
If the session sounds a bit like a campaign press event, it may be because it was originally scheduled for October. According to the White House, the president's tight schedule forced the briefing to be delayed until after the election.
But some participants in yesterday's session said it was a fine meeting anyway. Reagan "was kind of touched by the whole thing," said one task force member. "He said, 'I want you to continue doing your good work.' He said he was anxious to see our further progress."
Dorcas Hardy, an assistant secretary at the Health and Human Services Department and director of the task force, said the group also took advantage of the audience to lobby Reagan gently on several issues.
"We think there are some things left undone," she said, ticking off such possibilities as increasing the maximum Individual Retirement Account contribution for a nonworking spouse and raising child-care tax credits for low-income families.
In addition, she said, the task force reminded Reagan that Congress didn't act this year on two bills to remove some discriminatory language in dozens of federal statutes, and the bills will need to be reintroduced next year.
"It was a short meeting," Hardy said. "As the president says, what we're doing is a very nit-picking job."
The Task Force on Legal Equity for Women was established by an executive order in December 1981 as a kind of substitute for the administration's opposition to ratification of an Equal Rights Amendment. The group was told to pore through all the federal laws and regulations, identifying any that discriminated against women. At that point, the administration was supposed to take over and work for changes to assure legal equality of the sexes.
It didn't quite work out that way. In the summer of 1983, Barbara Honegger, a Justice Department appointee who was put in charge of the project, resigned with a parting blast at the administration for "reneging" on its commitment to the "ERA alternative."
The media had a heyday with the ensuing brouhaha, which featured such spectacles as an administration spokesman calling Honegger a "munchkin."
But the furor did seem to light a small fire under the task force, which, one member conceded yesterday, "was really just floating out there."
Within a couple of months, Reagan had a report identifying 100 instances of sex discrimination in federal law. Most of them didn't amount to much -- a reference to "wife" or "widow" where "spouse" might be more appropriate, for instance -- but Reagan quickly agreed to support changes in most of the laws. Notably excluded were examples that involved military training.
The task force kept plugging along, however, and the result was the report handed to the president yesterday.
Although a preface to the report calls it an indication of Reagan's "initiatives . . . to enhance opportunities for legal, social and economic equality for women," Hardy said that not all of the examples are new to the Reagan administration.
"Some are ongoing federal programs that we have been supportive of," she said.