Obama Seeks New Power to Merge Agencies, Pledges Some Action ‘With or Without Congress’

By Fred Lucas | January 13, 2012 | 12:59 PM EST

President Barack Obama delivers remarks on government reform, Friday, Jan. 13, 2012, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

(CNSNews.com) – President Barack Obama wants more power to reorganize the executive branch, powers he says will only be used to make government more efficient.

“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,” Obama said at the White House Friday. “Let me be clear, I will only use this authority for reforms that result in more efficiency, better service, and a leaner government.”

He also said that he was elevating the Small Business Administration to a cabinet-level position, and pledged to do whatever possible even without Congress.

“So with or without Congress, I’m going to keep at it,” the president said. “I’m hopeful it’s with Congress, because this is an area where we can receive bipartisan support, because making our government more responsive, strategic and leaner should not be a partisan issue.”

The president’s first goal, if Congress approves these powers, would merge portions of the U.S. Commerce Department’s business and trade functions, the Small Business Administration; the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative; the Export-Import Bank; the Overseas Private Investment Corporation; and the Trade and Development Agency.

“With the authority I am requesting today, we could consolidate them all into one department with one website, one phone number and one mission – helping American businesses succeed,” Obama said.

Under Obama’s proposed authority, he would be allowed to propose merging federal agencies to save money, and entitle him to an up-or-down vote in Congress within 90 days.

Obama invoked the New Deal era in talking about the presidential powers to reorganize the executive branch that he said Congress granted to presidents up to Ronald Reagan in 1984.

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“Congress first granted this authority to presidents in the midst of the Great Depression, so that they could swiftly reorganize the executive branch to meet the changing needs of the American people,” Obama said.

“For the next 52 years, presidents were able to streamline or consolidate the executive branch by submitting a proposal to Congress that was guaranteed a simple up-or-down vote. But in 1984, while Ronald Reagan was president, Congress stopped granting that authority and when this process was left to follow the usual congressional pace, not surprisingly, it slowed down,” he added.

Obama insisted government has not kept pace with the rest of the world.

“Think of all that has happened since 1984. A generation of Americans has come of age,” Obama said. “Landlines have turned into smart phones. The Cold War has given way to globalization. So much has happened – and yet the government we have today is largely the government we had back then. We deserve better.”

Five different federal agencies deal with housing and more than a dozen in food safety, Obama said, stating it leads to unnecessary duplication.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, with jurisdiction over government reorganization, said Obama has not welcomed earlier proposals to streamline the government.

“I stand ready to work with President Obama on proposals to reorganize federal agencies,” Issa said. “While I have been disappointed that the White House has not embraced earlier bipartisan congressional efforts seeking collaborative engagement on proposals to reorganize government, I hope this announcement represents the beginning of a sincere and dedicated effort to enact meaningful reforms.”