Obama reorganization could affect at least 12 agencies

The federal agency reorganization announced by President Barack Obama last week has a much broader reach than it initially appeared, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the bulk of the other Commerce Department agencies affected.

The president on Jan. 13 asked Congress for authority to consolidate six business and trade agencies, including the Small Business Administration, into a new business and trade department. The initial announcement indicated six agencies in total would be involved. However, additional details made available by a White House official indicates a planned second phase of the reorganization would transfer at least six major Commerce Department agencies out of that department and into the Interior Department, or into the newly created department. The later phase appears to be larger in scope than the first. 

Under the second-phase plan, the $5.5 billion NOAA—which comprises more than half of the Commerce Department’s budget and includes the National Weather Service—would be moved into the Interior Department, Jeff Zients, federal chief performance officer, said in a conference call with reporters on Jan. 13. An audio recording of the call is available online from FierceGovernment.com.

“NOAA would move to Interior as part of a specific proposal, once we have consolidation authority,” Zients said in the call. NOAA’s integration within Interior “would be carefully worked through,” he added.

That idea of moving NOAA has already sparked some opposition from the National Weather Service Employees Union, considering the importance of maintaining accurate weather forecasts for airlines, shipping and other industries, according to an article in the Washington Post's Federal Eye. The National Resources Defense Council also has raised concerns about possible risks to ocean environmental concerns if NOAA shifts departments.

Additionally, five other Commerce agencies, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Census Bureau and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, would be moved into the new department, Zients said.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Bureau of Labor Statistics and Bureau of Economic Analysis also would move to the new cabinet-level department, Zients said.

The new department would be organized under four pillars, Zients said:

  • Small business and economic development;
  • Trade and investment;
  • Technology and innovation;
  • Economic statistics.

The NTIA, patent office and NIST would move into the technology and innovation office, he said.

Zients said the reorganization plan would potentially eliminate 1,000 to 2,000 federal jobs, which would occur through attrition.

He said the administration vetted the reorganization ideas for months with federal officials, employees, unions and outside entities.

“We have talked with hundreds of businesses and employees,” Zients said. “It was very rigorous work.”

The first phase involves consolidation of six agencies, including the SBA, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Export-Import Bank, Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Trade Development Agency.

Additional changes affecting NOAA, NIST, NTIA and other Commerce agencies would be developed in the coming months, he said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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