Bloomberg News

Obama Urges Congress to Restore Power to Reorganize Agencies

January 23, 2012

(Updates to add that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would also be moved, in second paragraph.)

Jan. 13 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama called on Congress to give him authority to streamline the executive branch and make it easier for businesses to tap government resources by consolidating six agencies dealing with trade and commerce.

The core business and trade functions of the Commerce Department along with the U.S. Trade Representative the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corp., the Trade and Development Agency and the Small Business Administration would be consolidated into one department. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would move from Commerce to the Interior Department.

“We live in a 21st century economy, but we’ve still got a government organized for the 20th century,” Obama said today in remarks at the White House. “With this authority, we could help businesses grow, save businesses time, and save taxpayer dollars.”

The election-year proposal was released as the Republican presidential candidates seeking to challenge him in November are promising to shrink the size of government and cut spending.

‘Out of Control’

Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said Obama’s proposal will get “careful review” once the White House provides further details.

“Americans want a government that’s simpler, streamlined, and secure,” Stewart said. “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.”

Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, expressed skepticism while promising lawmakers would examine the plan.

“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,” Buck said in an e-mailed statement. “However, eliminating duplicative programs and making the federal government more simple, streamlined, and business-friendly is always an idea worth exploring.”

Predecessors’ Power

Obama asked lawmakers to restore power last held by President Ronald Reagan to reorganize agencies. Under the authority he’s seeking, Congress would then be able to give an up-or-down vote on the plan in 90 days.

When the president offered the proposal in last year’s State of the Union Address, he said: “We can’t win the future with a government of the past.” He then directed his administration to develop a plan to reshape the government, including possibly folding the U.S. Trade Representative’s office into the Commerce Department, abolishing some agencies and reducing the workforce.

Jeffrey Zients, the deputy budget director and a former chairman of the Corporate Executive Board Co., an information service for company directors, led the review, which was completed in mid-June. Now, as it prepares for this year’s State of the Union address on Jan. 24, the administration wants to wrap up the proposals made one year ago.

“The president, like any chief executive, needs the ability to streamline and modernize operations and save money and improve service,” Zients said in a briefing before the president spoke.

Obama has set a goal to double U.S. exports from $1.57 trillion in 2009 to $3.14 trillion a year by the end of 2014, and getting there requires consolidating the U.S. export bureaucracy.

The consolidation effort could lead to the loss of 1,000 to 2,000 government jobs, which would be achieved through attrition, Zients said. The goal is to save $3 billion over 10 years.

--With assistance from William McQuillen, Julianna Goldman and Laura Litvan in Washington. Editors: Joe Sobczyk. Mark McQuillan.

To contact the reporters on this story: Roger Runningen in Washington at; Hans Nichols in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at

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