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Anybody want to adopt an orphan agency? More than two weeks after the Reagan administration unveiled its proposal to raze the Commerce Department and erect on its foundations a new Department of International Trade and Industry, it hasn't found a home for the Census Bureau.
In keeping with the desire of the White House and some members of Congress to create a lean, mean exporting machine, the new DITI bag would be emptied of several of Commerce's non-trade entities.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for example, would have to fend for itself as an independent agency, as the Maritime Administration did when it left Commerce last year.
The Minority Business Development Agency would throw in with the Small Business Administration, and the National Bureau of Standards would be packed off to live with the National Science Foundation.
The administration has even identified a new home for the Economic Development Administration, even though it hoped for two years that the EDA would just get lost. The proposal would put the EDA in the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide "one-stop shopping" for community fund-seekers.
But the Census Bureau, with its battalions of statisticians and banks of electronic abacuses, remains a cipher. "At this point we're in limbo," bureau spokesman Bill Matney said last week. "We don't know where our next home will be."
Asked if there is talk of turning the bureau over to the private sector, as the administration has proposed for chunks of the National Weather Service, Matney said, "Not that I know of."
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE . . . Administration lobbyists are busily generating support for the new department, although their proposal has not yet arrived on Capitol Hill in the form of a bill. Gerald McKiernan, who is handling congressional legwork for Commerce, said that the Office of Management and Budget has the proposal now and is "doing the nuts and bolts."
Among the attractions being added is a more visible and powerful role for agriculture, to allay the concerns of farm-state legislators. Champions of agriculture, which provides 20 percent of U.S. exports, worry that the industry will get plowed under in the turf battle between Commerce and the Office of the Special Trade Representative.
"I think we have grappled with that problem," McKiernan said. "The Foreign Agricultural Service functions pretty well. And there is no reason to tamper with it.
"We will bring agricultural interests into the new department, however. The secretary would have an ag adviser, which Commerce doesn't have. There would be a separate Cabinet council on trade. And the vice chairman would be the agriculture secretary. It would elevate agriculture to a key position."
Another potential position: a new White House official to look after textile interests.
MORE CREATION . . . In the midst of plans to streamline Commerce, two members of Congress are trying to expand it.
For the third straight session, Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally (D-Calif.) and Rep. George E. Brown Jr. (D-Calif.) have introduced a bill that would create a "design council," a blue-ribbon panel of engineers, marketing experts, linguists and the like to help U.S. industry design products for sale abroad.
David Johnson, an aide to Dymally, said that the idea is to bring potentially exportable items in line with foreign demand. "Big American cars don't fit on small highways in Japan," he said.
It's not exactly a new concept: American producers already tailor their products to regional tastes at home. Bottlers of orange soda, for example, add more coloring in Sun Belt states, where consumers like their soft drinks in vibrant hues.
But the same kind of solicitous customizing isn't so common when it comes to selling overseas. Johnson recalled the sad case of a kitchen appliance manufacturer who lost out on a potentially lucrative market because foreign consumers didn't like the way the handles were designed.
The design council bill has yet to make it as far as a markup, but its sponsors are optimistic. Part of the proposed reorganization in trade agencies "reflects somebody's thinking that there needs to be more coordination," Johnson said. "The climate may have changed. There may be a slightly better chance than in the past."