Two key members of the House Ways and Means Committee proposed yesterday consolidating most of the government's far-flung trade functions under the single roof of the Commerce Department.
Rep. James Jones (D-Okla.) and Rep. Bill Frenzel (R-Minn.) said they would introduce legislation to establish an expanded Department of Commerce and International Trade.
The proposal differs significantly from Senate measures calling for creation of a seperate Department of Trade which would champion U.S. interests in increasingly competitive world markets. But the House action nonetheless reflects mounting interest on Capitol Hill in reordering America's trade effort, one way or another.
"We have the largest trade deficit in the world and the most disorganized trade bureaucracy," Jones said in a statement. "We cannot solve our trade problems in a Fundamental way until we get organized in a rational way."
Seven different federal agencies currently share U.S. trade responsibilities. The Jones-Frenzel bill would wrap functions performed now by the Departments of State and Treasury and by the International Trade Commission into the Commerce Department. It also would coordinate the activities of the Export-Import Bank, which helps finance foreign purchases of U.S. goods, and the Overseas Private Investment Corp., which insures American interests abroad.
Left unchanged would be the Agriculture Department's trade office. Also, the House would retain a separate identity for the Office of Special Trade Representative, currently headed by Robert Strauss, leaving intact the agency's negotiating role.
Any organizational shakeup is expected to encounter resistance from the agencies affected. But Jones and Frenzel suggested the chances for reform would be greater under their plan than under the Senate's more ambitious proposal.
A spokesman for Sen. William Roth (R-Del.), who with Sen. Abraham Ribicoff (D-Conn.) is promoting the new separate-department approach, welcomed the House alternative yesterday, saying "all options should be considered." But he repeated Roth's objections to consolidating trade functions in Commerce - that Commerce is "one of the most lethargic and sleepy departments around" and that foreign governments typically regard Commerce agencies as politically weak.
The Senate Finance Committee has tied its eventual approval of the recently negotiated multilateral trade agreement to creation of a new trade department.
President Carter is expected to offer some sort of trade reorganization plan by July 10, according to a spokesman for Roth. CAPTION: Picture, U.S. Reps. James Jones (left) and Bill Frenzel announce their plan to consolidate government trade functions. By James K. W. Atherton - The Washington Post