Equal rights: all talk?
President Reagan is getting a reputation for all talk and no action on his commitment to equal rights laws as opposed to an equal rights amendment. But look for the silver lining, as the song says, and he may be able to cite one in the delay of a long-awaited report on sex discrimination in the federal government. There is some evidence from the past administration that the very process of preparing the document brought unsung steps against the extensive bias that was found. Now the White House has disclosed partial information on Justice Department scrutiny of equity for women under federal law. ''Considerable progess'' is claimed. But still the complete facts ought to be speeded to the public and Congress for appropriate action.
Not yet released is the full report of the Justice Department's Task Force on Sex Discrimination going back to the Carter and Ford administrations. President Reagan referred to the task force in his last two news conferences. On July 28 reporter Sarah McClendon feistily persisted in asking him to let the public see what was available. Only then came disclosure of a 67-page document. It is at least something to put beside the 1978 interim report - 346 pages - of the original task force. Some of those involved always held out more hope for the influence of its investigative workings than for the impact of any report in itself. As the '78 report suggested, this influence could be added to other pressures for reform in federal agencies.
The Farmers Home Administration, for example, was prompted to acknowledge pervasive sex discrimination and potential for regulatory abuse; it committed itself to an extensive rewrite of 900 pages of regulations. Sex discrimination was found to pervade the Department of Defense, and it was responsive in various ways, including revising publications with biased elements. The task force was instrumental in establishing a Justice Department advisory committee to deal with discrimination discovered in the very department charged with enforcing civil rights. The National Endowment for the Arts agreed to include in a review of federal publications an examination of whether the depiction of women was fair and balanced. The list could go on. A task force can have influence.
But how much more influence could be exercised by the President himself! Plenty of discrimination is known already. Must Mr. Reagan wait for further study to take the lead in correcting it right now?