We are assembled here today in the East Room of the White House on what is truly an historic occasion. It's a great honor for me to stand on the platform with these distinguished men and women—Members of the Congress, in particular, who have joined with me in a partnership, continuing past actions of officials of our Government to make our country a fairer and a more enjoyable and productive place to live.
We have with us officials of a wide range of organizations, some of which I would just like to mention so that you'll know how broad is the interest and support for the action that we will introduce this afternoon: the Urban League, the National Urban Coalition, the NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the National Organization of Women, the American of Forum, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the American Association of Retired Persons, the American Federation of Government Employees, the National Federation of Federal Employees, the National Association of Government Employees, the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, the Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Governors' Conference; representatives from other groups like the United Automobile Workers; major corporations, NBC, General Motors. And we are particularly honored to have with us two women who represent leaders who were the great and courageous innovators in equality of opportunity and civil rights in our country, Mrs. Martin Luther King, Jr., on my left, and Mrs. Lynda Robb, the daughter of President Lyndon Johnson.
I welcome all of you to the White House to join with me in taking an important step toward a more competent Government and toward a more just society. We are here today to announce a comprehensive series of measures to consolidate and to streamline the enforcement of equal employment opportunity laws in our country.
I believe that this is the single most important action to improve civil rights in the last decade. Many of you in this room have participated in the struggle to make human rights a richer and a fuller reality in our country. You have led and represented different groups, fought different obstacles, but your commitments have been and are today the same. You've seen the evils of discrimination in all its forms, and you have dedicated your own lives to the elimination of those evils.
I've often said during the campaign in Georgia and in Mississippi that the best thing that has happened to our country in my lifetime, and particularly in the South, was the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It transformed the consciousness of our country, and it gave us a legal basis on which to ensure equality of opportunity and treatment.
When I announced my .own candidacy for the Presidency, I repeated the words of my inaugural address in January of 1971 as Governor of Georgia: The time for racial discrimination is over. Our people have already made this major and difficult decision, but we cannot underestimate the challenges of hundreds of minor decisions yet to be made.
Everyone here is ready to meet the challenge of fulfilling this equal rights commitment, whether we are from business or from labor, from the ranks .of movements which struggle, sometimes at the threat of one's life, to write that commitment into law, representatives of women and of minorities, of senior citizens and others.
In 1940, President Roosevelt issued the first Executive order to forbid discrimination in employment in the Federal Government. And since that time, the Congress, the courts, and the executive branch have taken historic steps to extend equal employment opportunity and its protection throughout the private, as well as the public sector.
But each new prohibition against discrimination unfortunately has brought with it a further dispersal of Federal equal employment opportunity responsibility and management. There are today nearly 40 different Federal statutes and orders with widely applicable nondiscrimination requirements. These are enforced by 18 different departments and agencies in Washington. That is a formula not for guaranteeing equal justice, but for confusion, for division of resources, for needless paperwork, for regulatory duplication, and for delay.
The program that I am announcing today will replace this chaotic picture with a coherent and sensible structure. It constitutes an important step forward toward consolidation of equal employment opportunity enforcement. Specifically, it will establish the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the EEOC, as the principal Federal agency in fair employment enforcement. It will transfer from the Department of Labor to EEOC major statutes which forbid discrimination on the basis of sex and of age.
It will transfer from the Civil Service Commission to the EEOC responsibility for enforcing equal employment opportunity protection for Federal employees. And it will consolidate in the Department of Labor responsibility which is now spread among 11 different agencies for ensuring that Federal contractors comply with equal employment standards. And it will also reinforce the responsibility of the Department of Justice to assure compliance with equal employment laws by State and local governments.
This is the first reorganization plan that I am sending to Congress in 1978 under the authority granted to me by law last year. This law is a powerful instrument which Congress and the President, working together, can use to make Government work better.
On this particular reorganization plan, as on others approved and those still being developed, we have been fortunate in having the close cooperation and the expertise of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, under Senator Abe Ribicoff, and also the House Government Operations Committee, under the leadership of Congressman Jack Brooks. We look forward to working very closely with them and their able staffs through the statutory process of congressional deliberation and evaluation of these proposals.
I think you can all tell from the evidence exhibited by the electronics media that we have a very busy group of people assembled with us today 1 [Laughter] I hope that they will be equally busy ensuring that the Congress approves these reorganization plans.
1 The President was referring to the noise being made by a paging device carried by a person attending the ceremony.
I have two documents to sign. They are fairly brief, about eight pages each, double-spaced, and they describe in clear terms the structural changes as I've outlined to you. As you know, under the reorganization legislation that Congress passed last year, I present the plan to Congress and unless it is vetoed by Congress with a 30-day [60-day] period of working days, the plans automatically go into effect.
This plan has some controversial elements in it. It's been carefully negotiated among the EEOC, the Labor Department, the Civil Service Commission, the congressional committees, their staffs, and the interested groups who are so deeply dedicated to equal employment in our country.
And it's with a great deal of pleasure and anticipation of complete success that I now sign the reorganization plans which will be presented to the Congress tomorrow.
[At this point, the President signed the documents.]
Thank you very much. In the future, in order to enhance my own stature in a crowd, I'm going to have my secretary call me during the middle of a ceremony. [Laughter]
One thing I'd like to add is—I didn't see him when I came in because of the group on the stage—but it would be inappropriate not to recognize the fact that Senator Ted Kennedy is here. And I will assume that he represents his great brother, who was the foremost leader in the enhancement of civil rights in our country.
Ted, we're glad to have you with us.