Welcome to the Department of Global Commerce

Last week, President Barack Obama asked Congress for authority to close the Commerce Department and create a new export agency.

Obama wants to put the office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), the U.S. Export-Import Bank (EXIM), Overseas Private Investment Corp (OPIC), the Trade and Development Agency (TDA), the Small Business Administration (SBA) and parts of the Commerce Department under a new roof — something that has been kicked around for years.

As I point out in my book “Conscientious Equity,” we have created a bloated behemoth government infrastructure to manage our global trade relations that is uncompetitive and inefficient.

Our exporters aren’t getting the support they need to combat foreign governments that erode our access to markets by erecting insuperable barriers to our products and services while stealing our intellectual property with impunity.

Without the right government infrastructure to support our exporters, the U.S. is losing about eight million good paying jobs. You would think getting this right would be priority number one in our fight for jobs.

While at an event last April in Washington I handed to Lisa Brown, Assistant to the President and Staff Secretary (she had recently been appointed to a leadership role to guide the White House government reorganization team), a copy of “Conscientious Equity” and told her it contained the solutions to our global trade problems and provided a vision for America’s trade relations with the world.

A short while afterward, I received calls from her office to discuss the chapter “Creating a New Organization” which addresses the very crowded table created by our multitude of trade agencies. We had long discussions during which they appeared to be very receptive to my ideas. I was encouraged that the ship would be righted.

Unfortunately, last week, as the announcement of the Administration’s government reorganization plans were revealed, Obama only mentioned six agencies to be consolidated. This completely ignores at least 21 agencies with overlapping trade responsibilities. Each of these agencies is their own fiefdom complete with kings and queens, legions of workers and cavernous castles that seem to go on for miles.

The savings being projected by this consolidation would eliminate 1,000-2,000 jobs and $3 billion in overhead — a fraction of what it could be if they took bolder steps.

Although it is a step in the right direction, it is a timid step, and one anchored in politics. I am afraid this is only electioneering to show the president is a cost-cutting, bureaucracy buster. You can’t put lipstick on a pig.

It is time to get serious and move towards a comprehensive consolidation that sends an unmistakable signal to the world that global commerce will no longer be an afterthought for the U.S., and that we will stop relegating its management to a hodgepodge of government organizations.

That’s why it’s time to create The Department of Global Commerce, headed by a Secretary of Global Commerce who has extensive experience in international business. Then we must give this department the ultimate power in making trade policy recommendations to the president. All agencies focused today on commerce and trade would be consolidated into the Department of Global Commerce.

The role of the Secretary of Global Commerce would be substantially different from the current role of the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. This cabinet member would preside over all trade policy discussions.

The current Trade Policy Review Group and the Trade Policy Staff Committee are bureaucratic bodies that stand in the way of clarifying objectives.

The Secretary of Global Commerce would, of course, receive input from other departments and agencies, but he or she would outrank the heads of other departments in matters of global commerce.

This consolidation would free up billions of dollars, some of which could then be reinvested into the hiring of lawyers and other staff needed to do battle with our competitors in enforcing trade agreements and protecting our intellectual property.

This would cost the American taxpayer nothing, but would be a tremendous asset in opening foreign markets to American products and services, and helping American companies trade on a level playing field.

One would think that we might have considered this consolidation approach necessary around the time of the 1947 Marshall Plan (The European Recovery Program). Or at least tried to streamline our bureaucracy during the 1970s when we first started to amass a significant trade deficit.

As we have seen in national security matters, we are extremely slow to recognize that too many cooks in the kitchen turn out a lumpy and unsavory broth.

This new consolidation and emphasis on global commerce shouldn’t become an election gambit. It’s too vital to our economy. And even more vital to putting Americans back to work.

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