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President Seeks Consolidation Authority to Reorganize Departments

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President Barack Obama announced today he wants fast-track authority to consolidate agencies, with a reorganization of the Commerce Department the first on tap.

If Congress goes along, the proposed fast-track authority would give the president up-or-down votes in both chambers within 90 days on consolidation proposals.

“The government we have is not the government we need,” Obama said as he outlined his proposal. Obama said it is a lot easier in Washington to add then subtract, and the new authority would help overcome special interests.

He unveiled a plan to reorganize and rename the Commerce Department. Right now, there are six different agencies and departments dealing with businesses and trade, Obama said.

“In this case, six isn’t better than one,” Obama said. “It’s redundant and inefficient. With the authority I am requesting today, we could consolidate them all into one department with one website, one phone number and one mission.”

Obama said that there are other examples of inefficiency across the government, citing a dozen agencies that deal with food safety and five that deal with housing, and he said the plan should receive bipartisan support

Obama’s chief performance officer, Jeffrey Zients, told reporters that the authority is similar to authority held by presidents for 50 years until it lapsed under President Ronald Reagan.

Zients called the proposal “a critical next step” in the administration’s efforts to streamline government. The administration’s first proposed overhaul to use the authority would save about $3 billion over 10 years.

The new plan would eliminate the Commerce Department in its current form and create an agency consolidating business and trade functions, including the Small Business Administration and the U.S. Trade Representative. The new agency would have a single point of contact, making it easier for small businesses to access services, Zients said.

The biggest piece of the Commerce Department — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — would go to the Department of the Interior.

In the meantime, while the White House waits for the Hill to act on its proposal, Obama said he would elevate the Small Business Administration to his Cabinet. And even after the reorganization, the trade representative would remain in the Cabinet.

Republicans said they would scrutinize the new proposals but criticized Obama for growing the government.

“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,” said Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “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.”

“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,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

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