R.I.P., Department of Commerce? Obama Seeks to Consolidate Agencies

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Department of Commerce will celebrate its 109th anniversary this year, having been created in 1903. And if President Obama gets his way, the agency won’t make it much past 110.

Announcing Friday morning that he is seeking authority to streamline the executive branch, President Obama said he needs the same kind of “authority that every business owner has to make sure that his or her company keeps pace with the times.  And let me be clear: I will only use this authority for reforms that result in more efficiency, better service, and a leaner government.”

As an example, the president wants to shut down the Department of Commerce, taking its core functions and giving them to a new agency that will also fold in the tasks of the Small Business Administration, the U.S. Trade Representative, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Trade and Development Agency, and the Export-Import Bank.

This new agency would be smaller than the sum of its previous parts by up to 2,0000 employees (which will be lost through attrition, the White House says), and saving $3 billion over the next decade, said Jeffrey Zients, head of management at the Office of Management and Budget.

The president noted that there are “five different entities dealing with housing; more than a dozen agencies involved in food safety.  And my favorite example, which I mentioned in last year’s State of the Union Address.  As it turns out, the Interior Department is in charge of salmon in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in saltwater.  Apparently, this all had something to do with President Nixon being unhappy with his Interior Secretary for criticizing the Vietnam War, and so he decided not to put NOAA in what would have been a more sensible place.”

The president is as of Friday elevating SBA administrator Karen Mills to a cabinet-level position to head this new agency on a temporary basis until Congress deals with this proposal. The weather service provided by NOAA and housed in Commerce will become part of the Department of the Interior.

The Census Bureau, also part of Commerce, will combine with the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the National Science Foundation’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics and be housed in this new Cabinet-level agency.

The move might help GOP presidential candidate Governor Rick Perry, who has called for the elimination of three agencies – Commerce, Education, and Energy – but has seemed to struggle with remembering more of two of them.

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House Speaker John Boehner's staff issued this response:
“Given the President’s record of growing government, we’re interested to learn whether this proposal represents actual relief for American businesses or just the appearance of it. American small businesses are more concerned about this administration’s policies than from which building in Washington they originate.  We hope the President isn't simply proposing new packaging for the same burdensome approach. However, eliminating duplicative programs and making the federal government more simple, streamlined, and business-friendly is always an idea worth exploring.  We look forward to hearing more about his proposal.” –Brendan Buck, Boehner spokesman.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's staff issued this response:
"Americans want a government that’s simpler, streamlined, and secure. So after presiding over one of the largest expansions of government in history, and a year after raising the issue in his last State of the Union, it’s interesting to see the President finally acknowledge that Washington is out of control. And while we first learned of this proposal this morning in the press, we'll be sure to give it a careful review once the White House provides us with the details of what it is he wants to do."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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