In a bid to shrink government, the White House has proposed merging the United States Trade Representative (USTR), the Small Business Administration, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Trade and Development Agency, and several functions of the Commerce Department into a yet-to-be-named new agency. This would be done only if Congress grants President Obama new powers to force such consolidation.

Several agricultural and commodity organizations have come out against the proposal. Next week, a coalition of such groups is expected to send a letter to the White House expressing displeasure over the merger.

The proposal comes in an election year and would soften accusations that the Obama administration hasn’t done enough to cut the size of government.

If the proposed merger goes through, the White House says it will save some $3 billion over a decade and mean the government employee roles would shrink by 1,000 to 2,000. To put the $3 billion in perspective, the Pentagon alone is expected to spend around $6 trillion over the next 10 years. The government’s annual budget is between $3.5 trillion and $4 trillion.  

The latest merger bid comes following a similar proposal in 2011. However, there is one big difference for agricultural interests: this time, the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) was left out of the plan.

A consolidation plan for trade agency reorganization “was announced during the 2011 State of the Union,” says Dave Salmonsen, American Farm Bureau Federation senior director of Congressional Relations.The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was put in charge” of checking all the particulars.

Along with other agriculture groups, AFBF representatives “met with OMB. Last June, we sent a letter recommending against the proposal to fold FAS and USTR into some larger trade agency. We didn’t think the missions that deal with agriculture have much in common with the Department of Commerce and wanted to keep them separate.”

The new proposal, according to Salmonsen, “says nothing about the FAS at USDA, which is good. FAS needs to be kept out of this and allowed to continue the mission they’re doing well.

“This is a live issue. We’ll have further comments down the road and there’s a possibility of (congressional) hearings on it.”