Two leading black Republican groups, the Council of 100 and the National Black Republican Council, have urged President Reagan not to change the 20-year-old executive order on affirmative action for companies that do business with the government.
Reagan, at his news conference last night, said he has not received an "actual recommendation" on the six-month-old dispute that has split his Cabinet.
"I don't want to do anything that is going to restore discrimination of any kind," Reagan said. "In fact, I'm trying to prevent discrimination with this idea, as I say, of eliminating quotas."
A senior White House official predicted yesterday that if Attorney General Edwin Meese III and Labor Secretary William E. Brock are unable to resolve their differences over the use of minority hiring goals and timetables, the final outcome "won't differ too much from the position the Department of Justice already has on this issue."
Meese wants to abolish the minority hiring goals and timetables that the Labor Department sets for federal contractors. He says that they amount to discriminatory quotas.
Brock has strongly defended such goals as a reasonable tool for boosting minority employment.
"I am unable to find a word that equates with quota and goal and means the same thing," the White House official said. " . . . That's what's taken so long, to try to put that in a language that could be accepted by both Justice and Labor."
The administration's two most visible black officials -- Clarence M. Pendleton Jr., chairman of the Civil Rights Commission, and Clarence Thomas, chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission -- have also opposed the use of hiring goals. But other black Republicans said that is a minority view among blacks.
The Council of 100, an alliance of black GOP business leaders, told Reagan in a letter yesterday: "We fear that the proposed change will be the trigger that aborts the development of black businesses and employment and could unleash another era of discrimination."
The National Black Republican Council, an affiliate of the Republican National Committee, said in a recent resolution that the Meese proposal would "effectively undermine the compliance process that is now working with the backing of both business and labor." It called the plan "an attempt to overturn the civil rights gains won through the efforts of Martin Luther King Jr." and others.
"Those spokesman who are black who speak out against it are out of step," said Elaine Jenkins, immediate past president of the Council of 100. "We Republicans just don't need this kind of issue."
The White House official, in an interview, repeated a common misconception about penalties in the Labor Department program. He said that if a contractor fails to meet a minority hiring goal, "You therefore are not living up to your affirmative action program and you get penalized. Now that, then, in the opinion of the Department of Justice, becomes a quota . . . . You have not made your goal, you don't have the correct quota, therefore you're penalized."
Since Reagan took office, two companies have been debarred from federal contracts for ignoring the hiring rules. There are no other penalties in the program; companies that fail to meet hiring targets must sign agreements with Labor in which they pledge good-faith efforts to recruit more minorities.
When pressed on this point, the White House official insisted: "Good faith . . . is in the mind of the inspector who comes into the corporation. [ If the] inspector's a tough guy, he says 'I don't go along. You can't set a good faith goal. You have to set a numerical goal.' "
But Joseph N. Cooper of the Labor Department said recently that contractors "are not penalized if they are not able to meet those goals. Goals are a good-faith effort."