In one of a series of reports set for release Thursday by the Center for American Progress, Jonathan Sallet and Sean Pool call on the White House and Congress to establish a Department of Competitiveness that would house all, if not most of the federal government’s responsibilities for trade, technology, workforce training and economic growth.
Much as President Obama proposed Friday, the new department would bring together an alphabet soup of agencies and offices responsible for trade and economic and business development.
At the center of the proposal, Sallet and Pool call for the use of a “common application” — not unlike the common application used for college admissions — that would provide businesses, state and local government, research institutions and universities with one way to seek out and receive federal assistance.
The common application program “would be empowered to dispense project grants, loans, credit enhancement and programmatic services as needed to help connect innovation players and bring regional innovation and job creation plans to life,” they write.
The proposal also has the potential to eliminate millions of dollars in rent and overhead costs accrued by each of the disparate agencies each year. As the chart above shows, three of the agencies that would be merged together — the Small Business Administration, the Economic Development Administration and the Employment and Training Administration — carry out similar tasks, but don’t currently coordinate efforts and divide up the country into different regions. Those divisions mean significant duplication that the authors suggest could be eliminated over time.
But undoing the duplication and overlap could prove to be one of the trickiest challenges of the proposed merger. Each of the agencies divided the country up in different ways for varying political, economic and historical reasons. And if the process ever gets to the point where there’s a discussion of relocating regional offices, just imagine, for example, the kind of political fights that might develop if the new department wants to relocate offices from Dallas to Austin, or vice versa. Splitting or merging states currently in different regions might also cause practical operational headaches for the officials involved with the work.
Though the push to merge and consolidate agencies may prove politically untenable, the reports set for release Thursday are must-reads if you're interested in a thoughtful assessment of what it might take to get it done.
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