President Carter's reorganization staff is preparing a proposal that would eliminate the Commerce Department and spin off its functions to other agencies, for an estimated savings to taxpayers of $30 million a year.
Also under consideration is a plan to strip the U.S. Forest Service from the Agriculture Department.
The proposals, none of which has yet reached President Carter for his consideration, also would create a new Bureau of Natural Resources by enlarging and renaming the Interior Department. And they would transform the present Department of Housing and Urban Development into a larger and broader agency named the Department of Economic Development.
Some reorganization advisers in the Office of Management and Budget are urging that these and other major renovations of the federal government's structure be made a top presidential priority next year, according to OMB officials who asked not to be named.
The officials stress that Carter has not yet been presented with the proposals and any decision on whether to seek major reorganizations is still weeks away.
Advocates point out that Carter campaigned on a promise to make the federal government core efficient by reorganizing it, and that he pledged to reduce drastically the number of federal agencies.
Although he has trimmed a number of relatively insignificant "advisory committees," he has actually enlarged his Cabinet, creating a new Energy Department and pressing for creation of an Education Department.
Scuttling the Commerce Department would allow the president to say he eliminated at least one Cabinet-level department. But some staff members argue against such dramatic proposals and are pressing instead for such initiatives as Carter's civil service revision plan, which Congress passed overwhelmingly this year.
These skeptics say large-scale reorganizations generate political controversy and just shuffle boxes on an organization chart without improving the product of the agencies inside the boxes.
The proposal to dismantle Commerce is strongly opposed by its boss. Juanita Kreps.
Under the proposal, the Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration (EDA) would be moved to HUD, shifting its focus from housing programs to job creation and renaming it the Burea of Economic Development to reflect this shimt.
The EDA administrater grants and loans aimed at stimulating private jobs and public works in areas suffering high unemployment and low income.
Commerces National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would be absorbed by a new Bureau of Natural Resources.