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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Trade Reorganization: Overview and Issues for Congress

Shayerah Ilias
Analyst in International Trade and Finance

On January 13, 2012, President Obama asked Congress for authority to reorganize and consolidate into one department the business- and trade-related functions of six federal entities: Department of Commerce; Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank); Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC); Small Business Administration (SBA); Trade and Development Agency (TDA); and Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR). U.S. policymakers’ interest in the organizational structure of U.S. government trade functions has grown in recent years, stimulated by congressional and federal efforts to promote U.S. exports and employment, including through the National Export Initiative (NEI). Interest also has been stimulated by national debates on reducing federal spending and the size of the U.S. government.

Reorganization has been a recurring theme in U.S. trade policy. Over the past several decades, Congress, successive Administrations, and other stakeholders have crafted and debated proposals to reorganize the trade functions and structure of the federal government in order to enhance the effectiveness of U.S. trade policy and promotion efforts; improve U.S. trade policy coordination; avoid duplication of functions and activities; boost the international competitiveness of U.S. industries; and for other reasons. Previous proposals have called for a range of actions, including consolidation of all U.S. export- or trade-related programs under one federal agency (such as a “Department of Trade”) to provide a “one-stop-shop” for the trade community; termination or transfer of functions of departments and agencies considered to be duplicative or unnecessary to U.S. trade policy priorities; and strengthening coordination of federal trade-related agencies, such as through the Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee (TPCC).

A central question in public policy debates about the U.S. trade policy structure is whether reorganization would enhance the effectiveness of U.S. trade policy or merely result in bureaucratic reshuffling. On one hand, proponents of reorganization proposals believe that they may eliminate duplication of federal trade functions, provide a more streamlined organizational structure for U.S. trade-related activities and policy based on more clearly defined goals and priorities, and reduce overall government costs. They argue that federal trade policy efforts could be enhanced through a more centralized government body. On the other hand, critics contend that such proposals could result in the creation of a large, costly federal bureaucracy, possibly making certain trade functions and agencies less effective if they are subsumed in a larger bureaucracy. They also assert that the diffusion of trade functions across the federal government helps to advance various aspects of U.S. trade policy, and express concern that a “one-stop” federal source may not be responsive to the unique needs of certain types of exporters. Furthermore, some contend that, while changes to U.S. trade policy—and by extension the policymaking structure— may benefit individual U.S. businesses and workers in the short-run, they have little influence in the long-run on U.S. export and employment levels and trade balances, which relate more closely to macroeconomic factors.

Congress would play a significant role in a trade reorganization debate through its legislative and oversight responsibilities; it could engage in consultations with the Administration, hold hearings, grant reorganizational authority to the President, and/or introduce and enact trade reorganization legislation separate from the President’s plan. In addition to considering possible reorganizational authority for the executive branch, Congress could consider policy alternatives such as to maintain the current trade organizational structure, privatize or terminate certain trade functions, strengthen or revise existing coordination of trade functions, or create a trade reorganization commission to examine the issue further.

Date of Report: May 31, 2012
Number of Pages: 32
Order Number: R42555
Price: $29.95

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