The White House's acting budget director Jeffrey Zients said the “government needs to be leaner, smarter, and more consumer-friendly."

The White House's acting budget director Jeffrey Zients said the “government needs to be leaner, smarter, and more consumer-friendly." J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Obama sends up draft bill for reorganization authority

OMB letter to House speaker promises Congress a continuing role in consolidation effort.

As promised, acting budget director Jeffrey Zients on Thursday sent Congress the Obama administration’s proposed legislation to widen its authority to consolidate agencies. In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Zients said the “government needs to be leaner, smarter and more consumer-friendly to give our communities, businesses and workers the tools they need to thrive and to strengthen American competitiveness and innovation.”

In January, Obama announced that if Congress agrees to restore agency consolidation authority enjoyed by presidents from the 1930s to the 1980s, he would proceed to merge six trade and business-oriented agencies into one larger department. He also elevated on his own authority the Small Business Administration to Cabinet status.

The legislative language unveiled on Thursday for the “Reforming and Consolidating Government Act of 2012" includes provisions to:

  • Permit the creation, abolition, consolidation, transfer or renaming of an executive agency or department if the proposed reorganization reduced the overall number of agencies or achieved cost savings.
  • Maintain the procedures from the 1984 reorganization authority that ensure Congress has a full voice (providing a process for an expedited up-or-down vote to approve reorganization plans in both chambers).
  • Leave unchanged standard provisions from prior reorganization authorities that permit the president to amend a plan pending in committee to accommodate feedback, preclude reorganization plans from covering more than one logically consistent subject matter, and allow no more than three plans to be pending before Congress at one time.
  • Sunset the reorganization authority after two years, thereby allowing Congress to regularly reconsider its authorization.

Following an envisioned reorganization centered on the Commerce Department, the Obama administration plans additional efforts to eliminate duplication, overlap and excess overhead.

Some skepticism toward the plan was heard at a Wednesday hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, at which Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said, “Instead of proposing serious reforms, the president offers platitudes.”