Obama’s Trade Advisory Council Meets Amid Department Shuffle

Obamas Trade Advisory Council Meets Amid Department Shuffle
The export council may find ways to make U.S. trade agencies more efficient. Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

The business executives on President Barack Obama’s export council will convene today to discuss publicly an idea that has been circulating inside the administration: reorganizing White House trade operations.

Members of the panel, who include Boeing Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer James McNerney and Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally, are gathering as Obama’s trade team is being shuffled and the president is seeking ways to achieve his goal of doubling U.S. exports.

On the council’s agenda is an export agency reorganization. Obama, as soon as today, plans to issue a memorandum directing his chief performance officer, Jeffrey Zients, to undertake a review of “restructuring and streamlining” the executive branch, including ways to make U.S. trade agencies more efficient, according to a draft of the document.

The Commerce Department reported yesterday that the U.S. trade deficit increased 15 percent in January to $46.3 billion from $40.3 billion the month before. While exports grew 2.7 percent, imports jumped 5.2 percent, the most since March 1993, as the cost of imported crude oil rose amid unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.

In addition to the prospect of a reorganization, Obama is searching for a new secretary of Commerce. He announced March 9 that he would nominate Gary Locke, who currently holds that post, as the next U.S. ambassador to China.

Administration Representatives

Locke, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Small Business Administrator Karen Mills will address the council. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling and Zients are scheduled to lead discussions on individual topics. Obama isn’t currently scheduled to attend.

The executives expected at the meeting include United Parcel Service Inc. Chairman and CEO Scott Davis; MetLife Inc. Chairman and CEO Robert Henrikson; Verizon Communications Inc. Chairman and CEO Ivan Seidenberg; Archer Daniels Midland Co. Chairman and CEO Patricia Woertz; and UAL Corp. Chairman and CEO Glenn Tilton.

Among the contenders for Commerce secretary is U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, according to a person familiar with the selection process. Kirk has had a leading role in pushing Obama’s trade agenda, including efforts to get a South Korea free trade agreement through Congress and to revise accords with Colombia and Panama.

The administration also is considering former Pfizer Inc. Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Kindler, whom Obama named to the President’s Management Advisory Board last night, and Google Inc. CEO Eric Schmidt, another person said. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because no decisions about the Commerce Department post have been made.

Management Board

The reorganization also will be a topic when the Management Advisory Board meets for the first time today. The panel was established last year to find ways to make the federal government more efficient.

The board is headed by Zients, who is also deputy director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.

In addition to Kindler, members include Sabre Holdings Corp. CEO Sam Gilliland; the chief executive officer of BET Holdings Inc., Debra Lee; CEO of Cummins Inc. Tim Solso; Motorola Solutions Inc. CEO Greg Brown; chairman of Aetna Inc. Ronald Williams; Liz Smith, chief executive officer of OSI Restaurant Partners LLC; CEO of Symantec Corp. Enrique Salem; Adobe Systems Inc. President and CEO Shantanu Narayen; and Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross.

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