President Obama has asked Congress for greater authority to merge federal agencies as a way to shrink the government and save money. (Win McNamee / Getty Images)
The Obama administration will send a bill to Congress in the next couple of weeks that seeks "fast-track" authority to reorganize federal agencies.
The bill's passage by Congress is deemed critical in the administration's goal to consolidate the Commerce Department and five other agencies that assist U.S. businesses.
If lawmakers approve the bill, the White House will then develop "a very detailed legislative proposal" fleshing out its plan to consolidate the agencies, said Lisa Brown, executive director of the Government Reform for Competitiveness and Innovation Initiative at the Office of Management and Budget.
But the administration will not include details of its restructuring plan in its fiscal 2013 budget request, set to be released Feb. 13, she said.
"The president's focus right now is on getting the reorganization authority," Brown said at a forum Tuesday hosted by Government Executive magazine and Dun & Bradstreet. After that, it would take "a number of months" to put together the legislation aimed at meshing the agencies into a new department, she said in an interview afterwards.
President Obama first outlined the proposed reorganization Jan. 13. Under fast-track authority, Congress would vote specific reorganization plans up or down, but would not have the opportunity to amend them. Presidents from Herbert Hoover to Ronald Reagan had such latitude, Brown reiterated Tuesday.
Under the banner of reducing overlap and improving efficiency, Obama wants to merge the U.S. Trade Representative's office, the Small Business Administration, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corp., the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, and the business and trade functions of the Commerce Department.
The new combined agency would also include programs from the National Science Foundation, and the Labor, Agriculture, Treasury, and Health and Human Services departments, Brown said.
"It really will create a one-stop shop for business," she said.
The administration has said that the proposal would save $3 billion over 10 years and eliminate up to 2,000 jobs through attrition. Brown said that the basis for those projections will be laid out when the administration submits the specific reorganization proposal.
Brown acknowledged that reorganizations are difficult to pull off without a crisis. If Obama does get fast-track authority, she stressed that the administration will consult closely with the affected agencies.