The Bush administration’s assaults on women’s programs continued right up until the ball dropped on 2001, with a late December announcement that the 10 regional offices of the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau will be axed this year. Of course the administration cites budget cuts, though the bureau’s offices spend less in one year than the Department of Defense spends in a couple of hours on planes the military doesn’t even want.

The Women’s Bureau has been advocating for working women for 80 years. It pressed to establish the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, eased women’s transition into the war industry during World War II, fought to establish the President’s Commission on the Status of Women and to pass the Equal Pay Act in 1963, and encouraged family-friendly polices such as the Family and Medical Leave law in 1993.

Currently the bureau has an initiative to interest more girls and young women in science, math, and technology careers, but after all, they’re only girls and probably shouldn’t aspire to such jobs anyway.

Though the decision won’t be final until the budget passes, it looks like the bureau’s regional offices will go the way of the White House Office on Women’s Issues and the President’s Interagency Council on Women, both abolished last year.

The move comes at a strange time for an administration keeping its eye on that all-important gender gap in this election year. Women fill nearly half the ranks of the work force – 65 million are in the labor force or looking for work. Full-time, year-round working women still make only 72 cents to a man’s dollar, and their benefits are woefully lacking.

While applauding administration moves like signing the Afghan Women and Children’s Relief Act, female voters – now the majority – know their own fortunes depend on actions right here at home. Mr. Bush has already said he wants to privatize their main source of retirement, Social Security, making it vulnerable to the vagaries of the stock market and manipulation by corporate crooks like his old buddies at Enron.

With administration moves like dismantling the Women’s Bureau and an economic recovery package that bails out corporations but not laid-off workers, women could get mad. Who knows, they might even decide to get even in November by turning over control of the House to the Democrats.

Martha Burk heads the Center for Advancement of Public Policy in Washington, D.C., which focusing on equal treatment of women.

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