Returning to one of the key themes of his 1980 campaign, President Reagan has directed government officials to place new emphasis on the American family in forming and implementing federal policy. In an executive order issued last month, Reagan mandated that all government policies be evaluated for their impact on the family.

Reagan has charged the Office of Policy Development, under the leadership of Gary Bauer, with reviewing all existing regulations and policies. Bauer, a Southern Baptist, will issue a report in six months detailing any recommended changes, either in the form of legislation or presidential action.

In addition, under the order, agency and department heads must submit to Bauer’s office a written assessment of how new measures will “enhance family well-being.” The Office of Management and Budget will moniter compliance.

Family-Impact Criteria

In his family-impact statement, Reagan spelled out criteria that should be used in evaluating each government policy:

  • Does it strengthen or erode the stability of the family and marital commitment?
  • Does it strengthen or erode parental authority and rights?
  • Does it substitute government activity for family functions?
  • Does it increase or decrease family earnings?
  • Can the function of the policy be carried out by the family itself, or by a lower level of government?
  • What message does the policy send to young people?

“If a proposed policy doesn’t measure up, this office’s objections will be grounds to stop it until we resolve those differences,” said Bauer, in an interview with CHRISTIANITY TODAY. “If we can’t, then the issue is kicked on upstairs to the chief of staff or the President to decide whether or not to proceed.”

The executive order puts into effect recommendations made by the White House Working Group on the Family in its 1986 report, “The Family: Preserving America’s Future.” Bauer served as chairman of the working group.

“The thing that struck us was that the bureaucracy here in Washington listens to all sorts of special interests who have high-powered lobbyists and lawyers,” Bauer said. “But the most important special-interest group of all, which is arguably the family, doesn’t have anybody who gets paid big money each year to tell the bureaucracy how to help them.”

The family-impact statement is similar to an environmental-impact statement that requires federal building projects to take into account potential environmental effects. Said Bauer: “This executive order is an attempt to force the bureaucracy not to consider the family as an afterthought, but to think of the family as easily as it thinks of the snail darter.”

According to Bauer, the White House is hoping the order will “put the family in the middle of the debate going into 1988.… Our feeling is that a new president, even of the other party, would be very reticent to repeal an executive order that requires the family to be put at the center of public policymaking. Our hope is that we’re going to leave behind a lasting change.”

Profamily advocates say they are encouraged by Reagan’s initiative. Curt Smith, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), a member of the House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families, called the order a “positive development.”

“Not only will it require federal managers and departments to look at what programs might do to or for the family,” Smith said, “but it’s likely … it will also foster programs to bolster the family.”

Family Research Council President Jerry Regier called it “a profamily statement that finally has some teeth in it.… The question now is, do we have policymakers with the ability and fortitude to carry out the [executive] order?”

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