Washington (Oct. 28)
President Roosevelt is expected to decide within the next few days whether government contractors must promise not to discriminate for racial or religious reasons in their hiring.
Under an executive order of the President, contracts “shall include” a clause obligating the contractor not to discriminate. Yesterday, Comptroller-General Lindsay C. Warren ruled that this order need not be obeyed in all cases, that it is “directory” and not “mandatory.”
According to Warren’s ruling, the clause need not be included if the Government is prevented from getting vital goods or services by the contractors’ refusal to agree to it. He cited the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company of Kansas City, Mo., as having refused to furnish telephone service to war agencies if the nondiscrimination clause is invoked. His ruling constituted a victory for the company.
Presidential Secretary Stephen Early said today that he thought any question of the President’s meaning should have been referred to Attorney General Francis Biddle. The Justice Department said Warren had not asked its advice, but that he was under no obligation to do so.
The President’s Committee on Fair Employment Practices, charged with enforcement of the President’s order, has asked him to make his meaning unmistakable. Although he will probably consult with the Justice Department, as well as other interested agencies, it is not legal but political advice the President will need. Racial and religious minority groups are urging him to insist on the anti-discrimination clause, but pressure from southern politicians is being exerted against them.
If the President supports Warren’s ruling, it is agreed here that the FEPC will lose much of its potential effectiveness, Warren said:
“It seems that the most that can be accomplished by government contracting agencies in carrying out the national policy of non-discrimination in the employment of workers as declared by the President is to secure the assent of contractors to such provisions wherever and whenever possible.”