Commerce Secretary Juanita M. Kreps told a group of municipal officials yesal officials yesterday that er department will play a major role in reviving the depressed economies of large urban areas.
Under past administrations, the Commerce Department has acquired a reputation for having little interest in urban economic problems, she said.
"Two years ago, an official of the previous administration who should have known better told the press that the urban crisis was over," the secretary told a laughing audience.
She vowed that municipal officials - 2,000 of whom have gathered here for a three-day annula meeting of the National League of Cities - "will hear no such nonsense from the present administration."
"We are committed to expanding employment, revenues, and sales so that cities can take care of their own problems," Kreps said. "The tools we are presently applying may not be the best we can devise, however, and I look to you to help us consider whether we need new ones."
One of those tools is the $2 billion federal, anti-recession public works program administered by the department's Economic Development Administration. The program is supposed to provide jobs in every state for an estimated total of 300,000 unemployed workers.
Most of that money was supposed to go to areas of high employment. Instead, much if it went to suburban towns with little employment. EDA was roundly criticized by city officials because of the manner in which the funds were distributed.
Kreps took note of that controversy yesterday. But she quickly pointed out that "all of these mistakes [in the public works distribution formula] occurred in the previous administration."
The Carter administration has managed to increase the public works treasury by $4 billion, to be distributed over the next two years, Kreps said. She assured the officials that the larger cities and other areas of high unemployment would fare better in the next distribution rounds.
The secretary said she will use the resources of other Commerce agencies to encourage economic redevelopment in urban areas. Those agencies include the Office of Minority Business Enterprise, the National Fire Prevention and Control Administration, the Office of Coastal Zone Management's community assistance program, the Bureau of the Census, the U.S. Travel Service, and the department's 64 field offices.
The National Fire Prevention and Control Administration, for example, through its National Fire Academy, provides grants and technical assistance to local fire departments, Kreps said. The Office of Minority Business Enterprise can be used to "identify, acquire, and start businesses with assets of $250,000 or more, primarily in the areas of light manufacturing and assembly," she said.
By all accounts, the flexibility the secretary spoke of will be needed to expand the department's urban economic development efforts beyond its EDA-public works program.
Including present funds, EDA would have a total of $6 billion to distribute for public works. The agency already has $24 billion in public works applications.
The National League of Cities is a Washington-based lobby representing nearly 15,000 municipal governments - large and small cities.
Specifically, the delegates will be asking their lawmakers to support:
Reenactment of the Community Development Block Grant program with increased funding. In 1974, that program with replaced several categorical grant programs with a single fund. It is scheduled to expire Sept. 30, 1977.
Increased spending for rousing, mass transit, energy and crime control programs.
The creation of a council of urban advisers to recommend urban policies and the conservation of urban resources.