President Barack Obama has asked Congress for authority to shrink the U.S. government and create a single export agency, saying the bureaucracy was too complex and unable to meet the demands of a 21st century economy.
In proposing to close the U.S. Commerce Department and merge six agencies, Obama could stifle Republican charges that he is a big-government liberal. Analysts were skeptical that Republicans in Congress would act on the request in an election year.
Obama wants to fold together the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and five other export bodies now spread across Washington into a new, yet-to-be-named department, giving businesses a single point of contact and ensuring federal spending goes further to boost sales abroad. Other parts of the Commerce Department would be absorbed into different federal agencies under the plan.
Obama, in remarks at the White House, said the overhaul was needed to create "an effective lean government" and would make it easier for U.S. businesses to get help to export their goods, a key part of his economic agenda ahead of the November vote.
"With this authority, we'd help businesses grow, save businesses time and save taxpayer dollars," he said, outlining his request for powers to reorganize the federal government.
With U.S. unemployment still high and the economy growing slowly, Obama is trying to boost U.S. trade ties with developing markets such as Asia as a way to spur output. He has set a goal of doubling U.S. exports in five years - from $1.57 trillion in 2009 to $3.14 trillion by 2015.
Trade experts said having one agency in charge of exports should help. "For the business community, engagement with overlapping agencies streamlined into a coherent process would be an advantage," said Nick Consonery of the Eurasia Group.
A White House official said the goal of streamlining the government was to save $3 billion over 10 years. It may also lead to the loss of 1,000 to 2,000 jobs through attrition, the official said.