Commerce proposes merger of telecom, technology agencies

The convergence of the telecommunications and technology worlds has prompted the Commerce Department to propose merging its three key technology divisions into one agency.

The plan to merge the Technology Administration, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the e-commerce functions of the International Trade Administration (ITA) would require legislative approval, but several telecom and technology companies quickly endorsed the idea.

Industry officials currently must go to different locations within Commerce, depending on the issues they want to discuss with the administration. Following the merger, the staff would be located in the same place.

"We applaud the Commerce Department's proposal to merge NTIA with the Technology Administration because it accurately reflects the reality in the market today that telecom and technology are inextricably intertwined," AT&T spokeswoman Claudia Jones said.

"By consolidating these three bureaus into one agency under the Department of Commerce, the administration shows that it understands how important a unified and coherent technology agenda is to our nation's economy," AeA President and CEO William Archey said in a statement. "With the challenges currently facing our industry, this couldn't come at a better time."

When Phil Bond, the head of the Technology Administration, was both chief of staff to Commerce Secretary Donald Evans and the undersecretary, he created an interagency technology council to better coordinate technology policy discussions within the agency. "We've been working closely together and this is a formalization of a good part of what we've been doing already," he said of the merger plan.

Bond said no staff would be cut in the consolidation and Deputy Commerce Secretary Samuel Bodman said Thursday that the merger would have no impact on the department's budget. After the move, the Undersecretary for Technology would oversee the new agency and the position of an assistant secretary for communications and information and NTIA administrator also would remain the same.

"What matters most is performance and results, and we believe these organizational changes will help us accomplish our jobs," said Nancy Victory, NTIA's chief.

When asked to give an example of how the consolidation could improve the department's activities, Bond said that all the work on technology standards done by the Technology Administration's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would be better coordinated with the standards work at NTIA.

He said the move also would combine separate aspects of the work on high-speed Internet services being performed by the Technology Administration's Office of Technology Policy and NTIA. The Technology Administration has been studying ways to boost demand for such broadband services, while NTIA has been focused on expanding access to those services.

The idea of the merger predates the Bush administration, Bond said, adding that it has been discussed for the past 10 years, as the telecom and the tech industries began merging.

The Information Technology Association of America, Information Technology Industry Council and the Business Software Alliance also praised the reorganization plan.