Think tank calls for a federal Department of Competitiveness

Monday - 1/23/2012, 10:00am EST

Jonathan Sallet, former planning director, Commerce Department

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The federal government is faced with two fundamental challenges — how to decrease spending and how to increase competitiveness. One solution from think tank Center for American Progress is to create a new Department of Competitiveness.

"The idea here is to take more than 3,000 federal programs and put them together so they work better for businesses, communities and universities, and do a better job to give regional economies what they need to really become competitive in a global economy," said Jonathan Sallet, former planning director at the Commerce Department and now a partner with the law firm O'Melveny and Myers. Sallet is the co-author of the center's report.

A Department of Competitiveness would fold in functions currently in the Commerce Department and Small Business Administration. Such an idea was the core of President Obama's request from Congress earlier this month for the power to merge agencies. The President suggested combining six agencies.

"We suggest what we think should be the next step," Sallet said in an interview with The Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

A new department would focus on four core areas:

  • Trade
  • Technology
  • Economic growth
  • Workforce development

A new department that "integrates these functions would become, by virtue of its size and cohesiveness of its functions, a stronger player within the federal bureaucracy and in the president's cabinet," according to the report. The report also calls for the appointment of deputy secretaries for each of the four functions.

Sallet said the federal government currently is set up in "a bunch of silos." Industries, however, are organized regionally.

"We really have regional economies that specialize in important areas: Nanotechnology, biotech, agriculture, polymers in Ohio, general aviation in Wichita," Sallet said.

He added, "The federal government isn't as efficient in getting those regional economies the kinds of assistance they need."

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