Obama asks for authority to consolidate agencies; concerns raised on foreign trade Reply

By Richard L. Lobb

January 13, 2012 from www.meatingplace.com — reprinted by permission

WASHINGTON — President Obama announced today he would ask Congress for the authority to consolidate several federal agencies dealing with trade and business development, including the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), which negotiates agreements covering exports of beef, pork and poultry among many other products.   Concerns were immediately raised that the consolidation could hamstring efforts to promote U.S. trade.

Also affected by the consolidation would be the Commerce Department’s business and trade functions, the Small Business Administration, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Trade and Development Agency.

“We’d have one department where entrepreneurs can go from the day they come up with an idea and need a patent, to the day they start building a product and need financing for a warehouse, to the day they’re ready to export and need help breaking into new markets overseas,” Obama said.

Under Obama’s request for what is called “fast-track” powers, Congress would give him authority to consolidate the agencies subject to an up-or-down vote by Congress, which could approve or disapprove the specific proposal but could not change the details.

USTR is currently an agency within the Executive Office of the President.  Trade Representative Ron Kirk holds ambassador rank and serves as a member of the president’s cabinet, giving him more access to the president than normally enjoyed by the head of a subordinate agency.  Obama did not say exactly if the reshuffled agencies would be in the existing Commerce Department or in a new cabinet-level department.

The president’s proposal met with immediate skepticism from trade experts.

“The administration has to carefully consider the importance of collapsing nimble and adept agencies such as USTR into a broader organization when you’re dealing with markets that are as complicated as Russia is,” Randi Levinas, executive vice president of the U.S.-Russia Business Council, told Bloomberg.  The council counts major manufacturers and exporters among its members.

The president said he would use his existing authority to elevate the Small Business Administration to cabinet rank.

The consolidation would lead to the elimination of up to 2,000 jobs through attrition and would save $3 billion over 10 years by getting rid of duplicative costs and programs, according to the Associated Press.

Congressional leaders promised to consider the president’s proposal carefully.

“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,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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