Obama formally seeks agency-consolidation authority

Thursday - 2/16/2012, 4:47pm EST

President Barack Obama has officially asked lawmakers for the authority to consolidate and reorganize federal agencies as part of a first step in merging several agencies related to business and trade.

The Reforming and Consolidating Government Act of 2012 would allow Obama to streamline Executive Branch agencies, a power the office of the President last held in 1984. However, the law requires that any consolidation plan the administration comes up with must reduce the number of agencies or cut costs.

"This authority is essential to creating a 21-st century government thai is fiscally responsible, works ever more efficiently and effectively for the American people, and helps make America more competitive," Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget Jeff Zients wrote in a letter to House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio).

If Congress approves the legislation, Obama has said his first step would be to merge six business and trade agencies, including many of the core functions of the Commerce Department, the Small Business Administration and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, into a single Cabinet-level department.

Cutting duplication, fragmentation

"There is too much duplication and fragmentation that make it difficult for firms, and especially small businesses, to get the assistance they need," Zients said in the Feb. 16 letter to Congress. "Now is the time to consolidate and reorganize these agencies and several other related programs into one department with one website, one phone Dumber, and one mission — helping American businesses succeed."

The bill would "ensure that the Congress has a full voice," according to Zients letter, by allowing for an up-or-down vote on the President's reorganization plans. Also, the reorganization authority would expire after two years unless reauthorized by Congress.

It's unclear how the authorization authority will be received in Congress.

When Obama announced last month his plans to merge trade agencies, some high-ranking Republicans offered lukewarm responses.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said the President had circumvented lawmakers.

"What's disconcerting is that the President has again chosen not to work with Congress — even after I specifically asked the Obama administration to fully brief Congress if it chose to reorganize our trade agencies," Hatch said when the President first unveiled his plan. Hatch serves as the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee.

If the administration is granted the consolidation authority and it submits a plan to Congress merging the trade agencies, its 2013 budget request will also have to be updated. The White House budget, unveiled Monday, was presented "in terms of the existing agency struc­tures, and appropriate adjustments will be submitted once consolidation authority is enacted," according to a General Note in the document.

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