White House unveils new trade initiatives, website as first steps in agency overhaul

Monday - 2/20/2012, 4:05pm EST

Just days after President Barack Obama officially asked Congress for the authority to consolidate federal agencies, the administration has announced interim steps it will take to promote business and trade.

Among them is the launch of a website, BusinessUSA.gov, focused on making it easier for businesses — particularly small ones — to work with the government.

Agency merge

The administration's plan involves the merging of six federal agencies and departments, including the:
  • Commerce Department's "core business and trade functions"

  • Small Business Administration

  • Office of the U.S. Trade Representative

  • Export-Import Bank

  • Overseas Private Investment Corporation

  • Trade and Development Agency

The Reforming and Consolidating Government Act of 2012 would allow Obama to consolidate and reorganize federal agencies. The White House plan, ultimately, involves merging six agencies, including the Small Business Administration and parts of the Commerce Department, which the administration says could save $3 billion.

"Until Congress acts, however, the President believes we must do what we can to make it easier for businesses to find the programs they need to grow, export and create jobs," Lisa Brown, acting federal chief performance officer, wrote in a blog post Friday. Brown, who was tasked with leading the government reorganization, pointed to two immediate steps the White House will take in the meantime.

First, Obama issued a memo Friday giving more authority to the Export Promotion Cabinet to "align interagency efforts" in promoting international trade. The goals is to "maximize the combined effectiveness of their programs and resources in support of his administration's strategic trade and investment goals," Brown wrote in the blog post.

The assistant to the President for international economic affairs, Michael Froman, will coordinate those efforts.

The White House also announced the official launch of BusinessUSA.gov, which aims to be a "virtual one-stop shop for businesses" and to help close the communication gap between agencies and small business.

"For too long, entrepreneurs — and especially small business owners — have been forced to navigate a confusing maze of government agencies to get the support and resources they need," Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel wrote in a blog post on the launch of the website.

"The site takes a 'No Wrong Door' approach that creates a common platform to match businesses with the services relevant to them, regardless of where the information is located or which agency's website, call center or office they go to for help," VanRoekel wrote.

Obama first announced the federal reorganization effort in his 2011 State of the Union address. He reiterated the initiative again last month, along with a more concrete plan to reorganize federal trade functions across agencies.

Also last month, Obama elevated the Small Business Administration to a Cabinet-level agency on an interim basis. However, if Obama's reorganization plan goes through, SBA would be folded into a larger Cabinet agency broadly focused on business and trade.

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