President Obama’s announcement of nominations to run the Commerce Department and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative set in motion new speculation about prospects for Obama’s 2012 plan to seek authority from Congress to consolidate agencies.
Before departing for Mexico, Obama on Thursday said he planned to send the Senate the name of Penny Pritzker, a hotel magnate and Obama campaign donor, to be Commerce Secretary, and the name of Michael Froman, a White House international economics adviser, to be USTR.
Both positions are currently vacant. Commerce has been run on an acting basis by Rebecca Blank and USTR by Demetrios Marantis.
Both agencies would figure in an Obama administration proposal -- first introduced in January 2012 -- to create a department of business by combining such agencies as Commerce, USTR, the Small Business Administration and the Export-Import Bank. The consolidation would require Congress to revive authority past presidents enjoyed until the 1980s.
Though Congress expressed some interest, the plan made little headway, with objections coming from environmental groups seeking to shield regulations from business, trade lobbies seeking to preserve USTR’s Cabinet status and lawmakers protective of their committee turf.
Steve Posner, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, said on Friday that “the president continues to support his proposal to reorganize business-related agencies into a single department. The proposal was included again in his FY 2014 budget.” Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said, “We’re still waiting. I’m disappointed the president has not proposed a detailed plan, but if he does a restructuring could still happen.” Last year, Issa expressed disappointment that the White House had “not embraced earlier bipartisan congressional efforts seeking collaborative engagement on proposals to reorganize government.”
On the Senate side, Mark Warner, D-Va., in the past Congress introduced a bill to give the president reorganization authority. An aide said he plans to reintroduce the legislation, but that details are not firm.