President Obama has asked Congress to provide him with the authority to consolidate multiple federal agencies, the next step on a plan announced earlier in the year to reconstitute the Commerce Department and several other agencies as a trade and economic competitiveness department.

In a letter to John Boehner, Jeffrey Zients, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote:

Today, I am submitting to the Congress the enclosed legislative proposal, the “Reforming and Consolidating Government Act of 2012”. This legislation would reinstate an authority granted to past Presidents to streamline and reform the Executive Branch. The Reforming and Consolidating Government Act of 2012 would modify this longstanding authority by requiring that any reorganization reduce the number of agencies or cut costs. This authority is essential to creating a 21st century Government that is fiscally responsible, works ever more efficiently and effectively for the American people, and helps make America more competitive.

This would have a two-year sunset, so the authority would require re-authorization. We can see it as a vehicle for undertaking the consolidation of the Commerce Department.

The legislation is attached to the letter, and it’s only a few pages long. It would grant authority for cost-saving consolidation of government agencies, under similar authority granted to the executive branch back in 1984. The Congress would have an up-or-down vote on reorganization plans after they are released by the White House. You could not have more than three reorganization plans pending in Congress at any one time.

The President, after the authority is granted, plans to submit his commerce and trade reorganization proposal. In a statement, Obama wrote, “We cannot allow redundant bureaucracy and unnecessary red tape to stand in the way of creating good jobs here at home, providing critical services for America’s families, and exporting America’s goods and services around the world.” In general, the new agency would include the US trade representative’s office, the Small Business Authority, the Export-Import bank, and a collection of other small business and trade agencies, combined with the Commerce Department to create a Trade and Competitiveness Department (a potential name; right now there is no name for this new agency). This consolidation would save $3 billion over ten years, according to the Administration.

Aside from the fact that a somewhat fragile economic recovery is a terrible time to consolidate agencies and cut jobs, there’s definitely some logic to making the Commerce Department a bit more functional. Right now the biggest agency inside Commerce is NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association; that would be put into the Department of the Interior under this deal. No word on where the Census Bureau, also part of Commerce, would go.

David Dayen

David Dayen