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Obama Urges Congress to Restore Power to Reorganize Agencies

President Barack Obama called on Congress to give him authority to streamline the executive branch and make it easier for businesses to tap government resources by consolidating six agencies dealing with trade and commerce.

The reorganization would affect the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Trade and Development Agency and the Small Business Administration. Obama said today that in the short term, he would elevate the SBA administrator to Cabinet-level status.

“We live in a 21st-century economy, but we’ve still got a government organized for the 20th century,” Obama said in remarks at the White House. “With this authority, we could help businesses grow, save businesses time and save taxpayer dollars.”

The election-year proposal was released as the Republicans seeking to challenge him in November are promising to shrink the size of government and cut spending.

Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said Obama’s proposal will get “careful review” once the White House provides further details.

“Americans want a government that’s simpler, streamlined and secure,” Stewart said. “So after presiding over one of the largest expansions of government in history, and a year after raising the issue in his last State of the Union, it’s interesting to see the president finally acknowledge that Washington is out of control.”

Up-or-Down Vote

Obama asked lawmakers to restore power last held by President Ronald Reagan to reorganize agencies. Under the authority being sought by Obama, Congress would then be able to give an up-or-down vote on the plan in 90 days.

The president first raised the plan in last year’s State of the Union Address, saying: “We can’t win the future with a government of the past.” He then directed his administration to develop a plan to reshape the government, including possibly folding the U.S. Trade Representative’s office into the Commerce Department, abolishing some agencies and reducing the workforce.

Jeffrey Zients, the deputy budget director and a former chairman of the Corporate Executive Board Co., an information service for company directors, led the review, which was completed in mid-June. Now, as it prepares for this year’s State of the Union address on Jan. 24, the administration wants to wrap up the proposals made a year ago.

Executive Action

“The president, like any chief executive, needs the ability to streamline and modernize operations and save money and improve service,” Zients said in a briefing before the president spoke.

Obama has set a goal to double U.S. exports from $1.57 trillion in 2009 to $3.14 trillion a year by the end of 2014, and getting there requires consolidating the U.S. export bureaucracy.

The effort could lead to the loss of 1,000 to 2,000 jobs, which would be achieved through attrition, Zients said. The goal is to save $3 billion over 10 years.

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