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Obama asking Congress for broad executive branch authority

President Obama is asking Congress to reinstate broad executive branch authority to reorganize the  government, starting with the consolidation of six departments and agencies with trade and export authority.

President Obama is asking Congress to reinstate broad executive branch authority to reorganize the federal government, starting with the consolidation of six departments and agencies with trade and export authority -- including the US Trade Representative’s office (USTR), the Dept. of Commerce’s trade divisions, the Small Business Administration, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corp. and the Trade and Development Agency.

According to Jeffery Zents, the federal chief performance officer and deputy director of management at the Office of Management and Budget, the President is asking for the reinstatement of the authority that former presidents had for more than 50 years, which would allow submission of specific proposals to Congress for a “fast-track, up-or-down” vote.

The President intends to elevate the current administrator of the Small Business Administration to Cabinet level, until the new trade department is established. The President will decide later who will be the secretary of the new trade department. The changes under consideration would essentially dismantle the Dept. of Commerce, including moving the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to the Dept. of the Interior. Other agencies in Commerce, such as the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis, would be combined with the Dept. of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, resulting in a new statistics agency that would be made part of the new trade department.

The President first proposed a reorganization of trade-related agencies in last year’s State of the Union address as a way to streamline government agencies involved in trade policy and export promotion programs. The President is asking for reinstatement of the authority that presidents have had to reorganize the government. In '84, Congress stopped granting that authority during Reagan’s presidency. If Congress grants the President this power, they would have 90 days to vote on his proposed changes.

Last March, President Obama sent a memorandum to the heads of all executive branch agencies asking them to assist in the development of a plan to restructure and streamline the federal government, starting with trade and export agencies.

Following that announcement, NCC Chairman Charles Parker, in a statement, complimented the initiative to streamline and make government more efficient, but cautioned against making changes that would undermine the effectiveness of agencies -- including the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) and the USTR’s office. He expressed concern that if USTR were consolidated with an agency like the Export-Import Bank, it could increase bureaucracy and limit USTR's ability to operate efficiently. The NCC and other agricultural groups, in meetings and communications, also strongly urged the Administration not to merge the FAS into any other agencies as it is a highly effective and efficient agency that meets the special challenges of promoting exports of US agriculture products.

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