A draft executive order that several top administration officials are urging President Reagan to sign would rescind rules that require some government contractors to set numerical goals for hiring minorities and women, according to a copy obtained yesterday.
Reagan apparently has not decided whether to sign the three-page document, which would affect recruitment and hiring policies at 73,000 private facilities employing 23 million people.
The new executive order would largely replace an executive order signed in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Sources in the civil rights community and in Congress, who obtained copies of the proposal, said that it is being pushed by Attorney General Edwin Meese III and William Bradford Reynolds, assistant attorney general for civil rights, as well as by officials at the Office of Management and Budget.
The issue is on the agenda of the Cabinet's Domestic Policy Council, headed by Meese, which makes recommendations to the president.
But sources said that Labor Secretary William E. Brock, who has been more sympathetic to affirmative-action goals and timetables, has asked that a final decision be delayed until he returns from an African safari later this month.
Brock's department includes the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which enforces the 1965 executive order through written agreements with companies and has the power to terminate government contracts if discrimination is not remedied.
The office conducted more than 6,200 reviews and investigations last year.
Justice Department spokesman Patrick Korten said yesterday that several drafts of the new executive order have been prepared as part of a long-running administration debate over affirmative action.
"It is not ripe for high-level decision," Korten said, adding that those publicizing the proposal may be "trying to take advantage of the August doldrums."
Labor Department spokesman David Demarest said, "Clearly, Secretary Brock has an interest in this issue and we would expect that whatever discussions take place within the administration, he would be involved in."
Richard T. Seymour, director of an employment discrimination project at the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said the proposal would mean "pretty much the end of the entire program . . . . It's a more extreme step than any they've taken so far."
The draft order would not require a government contractor "to utilize any numerical quota, goal or ratio" to remedy discrimination based on race, sex, religion or national origin.
"Nor shall any government contractor or subcontractor be determined to have violated this order due to a failure to adopt or attain any statistical measures," the document adds.
Compliance would be judged by a company's "demonstrated nondiscriminatory treatment of its employees and potential employees," the document says, "irrespective of the number of minorities and women recruited, trained, hired or promoted by the contractor or subcontractor." All rules to the contrary would be revoked immediately.
The order says that each contractor "shall engage in affirmative recruitment and employment-related training programs designed to ensure that minorities and women receive full consideration for hiring and promotion," and that they may be required to meet certain timetables.
But the order warns that numerical goals cannot be applied to recruitment efforts, as well as hiring, firing, promotion, demotion, salary and training.
Seymour said this means that strong statistical proof of racial or sexual bias could not be considered, even though the courts now routinely consider such statistical measures as as way of inferring discrimination.
He said that the draft order falls short of the Justice Department's proposed recruitment goals in the 51 affirmative-action consent decrees it has reopened across the country.
"The only situations covered would be direct proof of intentional discrimination," Seymour said. "It's very rare that a memo surfaces that says 'We're not going to hire blacks,' or a sign in the window says 'No women allowed.' "
Seymour said that no violations could be found under the draft order "as long as everyone got an application and was smiled at."
Reynolds said in a recent letter that he measures affirmative action by "the number of persons who are recruited to apply" for jobs at companies with records of hiring discrimination, not by the number of women or minorities hired.