Commerce Nominee Promises Reforms
By Paul Blustein
Commerce Secretary-designate William M. Daley vowed yesterday to take measures aimed at restoring the Commerce Department's tattered reputation, including abolishing 100 political positions and deferring international trade missions pending a review.
Appearing at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, Daley said "there is no place for politics" at Commerce, and he promised action "to ensure that all department programs meet the standards of integrity that the American people expect."
The vow of political chastity by Daley, a scion of the Democratic family that has dominated Chicago politics for two generations, underscored the troubles besetting Commerce.
The department figures prominently in the recent controversies over Democratic Party fund-raising practices, primarily because of allegations leveled against John Huang, a former deputy assistant commerce secretary who became a prolific Democratic fund-raiser. Republican congressional investigators are questioning whether Huang used his department post to help Democratic donors, including members of the wealthy Indonesian family for whom he once worked. He has denied any such impropriety.
Huang's difficulties have revived allegations that the department is a dumping ground for political appointees and that overseas trade missions led by the late commerce secretary Ronald H. Brown, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, favored corporations that donated generously to the Democrats.
"The department's reputation has been sullied," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the panel's chairman.
Despite the controversy, Daley is expected to win confirmation without much difficulty, according to committee aides, who said the panel probably will vote to send the nomination to the full Senate in a couple of weeks.
McCain said presidential nominees should be rejected only if they are clearly "unfit or unable to serve the nation," and he welcomed Daley's plans for the department. But he warned Daley that he had an unusually high responsibility "to make sure that any taint of politicization or illegal behavior will be eradicated."
Daley repeatedly assured the panel that he intended to do so, and in his opening statement sought to demonstrate his determination by announcing plans for elimination of 100 of the 260 political positions at the department. He did not specify which jobs would be affected and aides said he had not yet decided whether the positions would be filled with career staff or abolished.
Daley also promised a "top to bottom review of the rules, procedures and criteria" concerning the selection of companies for trade missions, which are conducted to help U.S. firms sell products overseas.
While that review is going on, Daley said, all pending trade missions will be postponed for at least 30 days. Department officials said that a number of missions are scheduled for the next month, led by officials at the deputy assistant secretary level and below, to countries such as Argentina, Hungary and India.
In written answers to questions submitted by McCain, Daley said that while he strongly believes trade missions are vital to promoting the interests of U.S. corporations and workers, "I will insist that invitations will be issued on the basis of merit and in accordance with clear and objective criteria."
Daley, whose late father served as Chicago's mayor and whose brother is mayor now, also sought to dispel concerns that he might use his Cabinet post for partisan political ends in his native city. He said that although the law doesn't require him to do so, he "will not participate in specific matters in which the city of Chicago is a party, such as grant determinations, so long as my brother serves as mayor."
Commerce was unsuccessfully targeted for dismantling by Republican lawmakers in 1995, and although members of the panel didn't suggest they wanted to try such a drastic step again, several GOP senators attacked departmental programs as "corporate welfare." Among those criticized was the Advanced Technology Program, which provides seed capital to companies undertaking research and development of promising commercial technologies.
Daley defended the program, and other Commerce programs aimed at helping business, as "investments" in the nation's economic future. The department, he declared, is "where our future jobs are created and our economic growth is nurtured." Its role, he maintained, is indispensable to providing U.S. companies with the help they need to counter the assistance given by foreign governments to their firms.
Daley was nominated to succeed Mickey Kantor, who replaced Brown after he was killed in a plane crash last April.
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company