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Budget Marks New Low Point In Civil Rights, Panel Claims

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Washington--The fiscal 1983 budget being offered by the Reagan Administration marks "a new low point" in civil-rights enforcement that threatens to reduce federal civil-rights laws to "little more than devalued pieces of paper," according to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

In a report released late last month, the commission concluded that the President's budget proposals point to "an increasingly passive role for federal civil-rights enforcement agencies." The report warned that unresolved civil-rights problems will remain and that victims of discrimination will be less likely to obtain prompt and effective relief under the President's fiscal policies.

"Our conclusions are not encouraging," said Clarence Pendleton Jr., chairman of the independent fact-finding agency, in releasing the report.

Specifically, Mr. Pendleton noted that the civil-rights share of the federal budget "is very small and declining steadily."

Spending Power Eroded

In the proposed fiscal 1983 budget, he said, civil-rights enforcement accounts for only seven one-hundreths of one percent of the total. Inflation, he added, has also eroded actual spending power for civil-rights agencies.

According to the report, the Administration plans to spend $536-million for civil-rights enforcement throughout the government in fiscal 1983, up from $527 million in the current fiscal year.

But adjusting for inflation, Mr. Pendleton said, the commission report estimates "that total outlays for federal civil-rights enforcement are worth about $106 million less than they were two years ago."

"Under the proposed fiscal 1983 budget, which involved actual cuts for some agencies, the federal government would have 25 percent less spending power for civil-rights enforcement than it had in fiscal 1980,'' he added.

The commission report analyzed the civil-rights enforcement activities of five federal agencies, including the Education Department (ED).

In its section on ed, the report noted that the Administration's proposed budget cuts "would decrease compliance reviews and technical assistance, restrict monitoring, and perhaps aggravate deficiencies so serious" that the department's office for civil rights (OCR) "faces a possible contempt ruling for failing to carry out its responsibilities."

Funding for OCR has declined steadily since 1979, when the office spent approximately $57 million on enforcement activities in education, the report noted. In fiscal 1983, the Administration has requested approximately $44 million for these activities--only $34.7 million when measured in 1980 constant dollars.

Under such tight fiscal constraints, OCR officials predict that they will be able to conduct only 60 new civil-rights compliance reviews in fiscal 1983. According to the commission, that means that reviews would be conducted at fewer than 3 percent of the 2,500 school systems and postsecondary institutions that the OCR believes are in serious violation of major civil-rights requirements, the report said.

Furthermore, the proposed budget reductions would force OCR to operate with only 64 percent of the staff that it had previously indicated it would need to enforce federal civil-rights requirements adequately, the report concluded.

Copies of the report, The Federal Civil Rights Enforcement Budget: Fiscal Year 1983, are available from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1121 Vermont Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20425.

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