The President has a speech at this hour where he will call for the consolidation of several federal agencies to shrink the federal bureaucracy and save money, a return to the “age of austerity” Obama that has faded of late as the election nears and populism returns to the fore.
Obama will propose combining the functions and staff of six trade- and commerce-related agencies and offices: the Small Business Administration; the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative; the Export-Import Bank; the Overseas Private Investment Corporation; and the Trade and Development Agency. The move would ease the regulatory burden on businesses and save money by eliminating duplicative functions such as human resources, the White House official said.
Under the plan, Obama would first seek broad consolidation authority from Congress, which would also be able to vote on each specific proposed merger. Such authority was last held by former President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, according to the Associated Press, which first reported Obama’s proposal.
In his 2011 State of the Union address, Obama vowed to tackle federal inefficiency, famously joking: “The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in salt water. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.”
Aides said the quip came from White House Chief of Staff William M. Daley, who served as commerce secretary during the Clinton administration and had urged Obama to tackle concerns with the sprawling federal bureaucracy.
So this is a legacy Bill Daley sop. Consolidating these agencies would save a paltry amount, around $3 billion over 10 years. Reducing the regulatory burden is probably the bigger goal here. But the plan would, according to the White House, eliminate over 1,000 jobs.
Nobody believes that the federal bureaucracy works perfectly. But reform needs to take a back seat to job creation and unemployment at this time. This is a half-measure on the reform front: Obama isn’t calling for eliminating the Commerce Department, for example. But it kills over 1,000 jobs at a time when the economy can ill afford more layoffs. Maybe that’s not a big number in a country where turnover is such that first-time jobless claims under 400,000 a week is seen as positive. But it is 1,000 human lives, 1,000 families, 1,000 more people added to the job seeking group on the streets. Why would you even think about doing that right now?
For all the talk that Republicans make about reducing the size of government – and in the case of Rick Perry, for all the struggles to actually identify the names of the agencies he wants to reduce – the consistent government-reducers over the past 20 years in Washington have been the Democrats. Al Gore’s “reinvention of government” in the Clinton Administration didn’t reduce much of the bureaucracy, but it did eliminate thousands of jobs. And under Obama there has been a public sector depression, with jobs for government employees shrinking at a rate and for a length of time unseen in generations. Not all of those cuts can be laid at the feet of the President – a large majority of them are in the states – but it’s undeniable that, in recent history at the executive branch level, Republicans talk about smaller government, and Democrats try to actually achieve it.