By Anne E. Kornblut, Globe Staff, 3/28/2001

 

WASHINGTON - President Bush has quietly closed the White

House

Office for Women's Initiatives and Outreach, shutting a small but

symbolic office in one of many indications that his administration intends to

reshape the government's approach to women's issues.

 

The closing of an office established in 1995 was not

announced, and a White House official declined to explain, except to say

that it ''expired at the end of President Clinton's term.''

 

The office, which ranged in size from four to nine people,

served as a liaison to outside organizations with ideas and questions about

pending policies affecting women.

 

Audrey Haynes, who directed the office before becoming

Tipper

Gore's chief of staff, said its work then focused on economic issues

important to women. She cited the example of a call received from a

Harvard

professor who pointed out negative effects of a bankruptcy bill on

women.

Such advocates ''don't know who to call'' in the White House without

that

office, she said.

 

''The policy shop depended on us to really monitor all of

the

policy initiatives that were being formulated within the White House or

the

Cabinet,'' Haynes said. Bush's decision to close the office, she said,

''concerns me.''

 

Asked why Bush did not renew the office, spokeswoman

Claire E.

Buchan responded in more general terms. ''As far as President Bush is

concerned, women's issues are very high on his priority list, issues

that

affect women and all Americans, especially tax relief for working

mothers,

child care, health care, cancer research funding for NIH,'' she said.

 

Bush prides himself on caring about issues affecting women

and

launched a ''W is for Women'' sidebar to his campaign as a testament.

He

has put dozens of women - more than any other president - in positions

of

power on the White House staff. They include Karen Hughes, counselor to

the

president, the highest-ranking female staff aide in the history of the

White House.

 

But he is also a firm fiscal conservative, and he is wary

of

affirmative action, practices that allow schools and contractors to

consider race, gender, and ethnicity when making decisions.

 

Instead, Bush favors a vague concept of ''affirmative

access,'' which aspires to a workplace where minorities and women are

also

the best candidates.

 

Despite his statements supporting women's issues in

general,

Bush's views on some specifics - including Title IX, which he says he

supports but has also criticized - have been nebulous.

 

Some of his personnel moves have indicated a move away

from

Clinton administration views that won support from women's groups

established since the emergence of feminism.

 

Bush has placed Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a conservative

economist who says there is no gender gap in pay, in a top position at

the

Council of Economic Advisers. Kay Coles James, a Christian activist who

opposes affirmative action, has been picked to direct the Office of

Personnel Management, which oversees labor and discrimination rules

within

the federal work force.

 

James, a former official at Pat Robertson's Regent

University,

once attacked the choice of Joycelyn Elders for surgeon general

because,

she wrote, ''the best person ought to get the job, regardless of race

or

gender.'' On another occasion, she accused ''militant radical

feminists''

of trying to ''divide us along gender lines'' by expanding the

definition

of rape to include all forms of unwanted sexual conduct.

 

''Women must be responsible for their own behavior, and

our

legal system must be careful to define rape within reasonable limits,''

James wrote in a letter to a Heritage Foundation publication in 1994.

 

Furchtgott-Roth, an alumna of the Reagan and past Bush

administrations, has written a book on wage comparisons between men and

women that argues that ''complaints about systematic economic

discrimination against women simply do not square with the evidence.''

Rather than earning 75 cents for every dollar a man earns, as the

Clinton

administration argued, women make more like 98 cents, Furchtgott-Roth

concludes.

 

Other appointees - several hired from conservative think

tanks

- reject the traditional feminist platform, especially what has been

called

the ''politics of female victimization.''

 

Their views are no academic matter: Various programs

affecting

women, from labor contracting rules to Title IX funding for female

sports,

are likely to be seen through a much different lens than they were by

the

last administration, and with a more conservative bent.

 

Their arrival along with other conservative intellectuals

at

the White House is welcome news to many Republicans, both men and

women.

 

Nancy Pfotenhauer, president of the Independent Women's

Forum,

said she expected this year to see much less emphasis on ''Equal Pay

Day,''

the event staged by liberals on April 3 to underscore a gender gap in

wages. ''You wouldn't see the Bush administration pushing something

like

that,'' she said.

 

Cathy Young, author of the book ''Ceasefire: Why Men and

Women

Must Join Forces To Achieve True Equality,'' agreed. ''There's not

going to

be the talk there was about gender issues as there was under Clinton,''

she

said.

 

But that is troubling news to many feminist organizations,

which are closely watching the appointments and awaiting the outcome of

the

first Bush budget.

 

Martha Burk, chair of the National Council of Women's

Organizations, voiced concern about a range of areas affecting women,

from

the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's pursuit of sexual

harassment

complaints, to the Labor Department's investigation into federal

contractors' wage scales.

 

Burk also cited the selection of Wade Horn as the

assistant

secretary for family support at the Department of Health and Human

Services. As president of the National Fatherhood Institute, he has

been

known to ''push marriage as a way to keep women and children out of

poverty,'' she said.

 

''Up and down the line,'' Burk added, ''the acknowledgment

that so-called movement conservatives are now becoming high level

appointees is alarming from the perspective of gender equity and

women's

programs.''

 

This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on

3/28/2001.

Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

 

Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company

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