Obama Seeks To Streamline The Federal Government

Jan 13, 2012
Originally published on January 13, 2012 4:08 pm
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

Call it a gesture, call it an election year conversion. President Obama called it a step in the right direction. He announced today that he wants to combine half a dozen agencies into one with the mission of promoting trade and commerce at home and abroad.

As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, it's part of a broader government streamlining effort that the president says he wants to undertake if Congress gives the okay.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Boosting the U.S. economy is President Obama's top priority, but he says it's harder to help small businesses and promote exports when the task is scattered across six different government agencies.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: In this case, six is not better than one.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama wants to consolidate large parts of the Commerce Department, the Small Business Administration, the U.S. Trade Representative and other agencies under a single Cabinet secretary. Before he can do that, he needs a green light from Congress.

OBAMA: With the authority that I'm requesting today, we could consolidate them all into one department with one website, one phone number, one mission, helping American businesses succeed.

HORSLEY: The White House says the move would eliminate one to 2,000 government jobs through attrition and save taxpayers $3 billion over the next decade. Mr. Obama told an audience of small business owners at the White House today the consolidation would also improve service.

OBAMA: Go talk to ordinary Americans, including some of the small business leaders here today, they'll tell you that to deal with government on a regular basis is not always the highlight of their day.

HORSLEY: I decided to call Roy Paulson, the owner of a California manufacturing firm who's gotten help from the Commerce Department to boost his sales overseas. Paulson had high praise for the hardworking employees at Commerce and the Small Business Administration, but he admits it can be difficult to navigate the government's bureaucratic maze.

ROY PAULSON: You almost need a GPS to figure out the U.S. government. I know that in the U.S. government they are also frustrated because they themselves get confused and don't know what to do.

HORSLEY: Paulson says in his own business, he needs to step back occasionally and see if there's a way to operate more efficiently. He thinks the government should do the same.

PAULSON: This reorganization that the president is discussing not only could be applied to commerce. But let's assume that it was a good model, what they achieve there, he could apply that into other areas also.

HORSLEY: In fact, Mr. Obama's asking Congress for the power to streamline other parts of the government where agencies overlap. Each reorganization would be subject to lawmaker's up or down vote.

OBAMA: This is the same sort of authority that every business owner has to make sure that his or her company keeps pace with the times. And let me be clear. I will only use this authority for reforms that result in more efficiency, better service and a leaner government.

HORSLEY: Congressional Republicans expressed a grudging willingness to consider the president's proposals, though some were skeptical about whether Mr. Obama would be interested in shrinking the federal bureaucracy if this were not an election year.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.