(TNS) — As part of his proposal to reduce the role of the federal government, Gov. John Kasich rolled out a plan today to kill the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The agency with a $12 billion budget and more than 40,000 employees “has become a cluttered ‘ attic’ for the federal government, hiding political pet projects, outdated programs, and agencies without a logical home,” the Kasich campaign said in a fact sheet. “The resulting ‘Franken-agency’ simply no longer makes sense.”
The proposal follows a Kasich plan introduced last month in New Hampshire to balance the federal budget in eight years — cutting taxes and increasing defense spending at the same time — as well as achieving energy independence and shipping the functions of some federal agencies largely back to the states.
Closing it now “would send a huge signal to Washington that business as usual is over,” he said in a release. “My plan for commerce is a template I would take to all federal agencies — shrink, consolidate, shut down and send responsibilities back to us in our states and communities.”
Kasich had proposed shutting down the same agency when he was House Budget Committee chairman. The 1993 Penny-Kasich plan — named after the Ohio Republican and Minnesota Democrat Tim Penny — would have combined into a new Department of Science the existing departments of Commerce, Energy and Environment, as well as NASA, the National Science Foundation, the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Economic Development Administration.
Kasich’s new plan echoes at least one of his rival’s for the nomination.
In March, Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican also running for president, said if the Department of Commerce was eliminated tomorrow he didn’t think anyone would notice it was gone.
“The Department of Commerce is 30, 40 billion dollars — I’d cut it all tomorrow,” he said during an appearance at Bowie State University in Maryland. “I don’t think anybody’d notice it. I think no one would notice it was gone. Most of the Department of Commerce is actually going to rich corporations — there’s $20 billion worth of direct welfare to rich corporations; on average, there’s about over $200 million on average to about 40 or 50 big corporations. So you can eliminate that.”
Proposals to nix the agency are nothing new; in 2007, the Congressional Research Service issues a report listing a handful of bills that would have abolished the department. And in 2011, then-Texas Gov. and presidential candidate Rick Perry proposed eliminating Commerce, Interior and the Department of Education, though his inability to remember and list all three agencies during a GOP debate caused a gaffe from which his campaign never recovered.
But doing so would only save taxpayer money if the agencies within the department were abolished, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
“Eliminating a department while transferring its programs in essentially unchanged form to other departments or agencies would probably result in little or no budgetary savings, because most of the costs incurred by departments are the costs of the programs themselves,” the CBO found. There would also be one-time initial costs to terminate programs or activities such as paying accrued leave and unemployment benefits to federal employees who were out of a job.
But the idea is politically popular among conservatives, with prominent conservatives at the Heritage Foundation and the Club for Growth endorsing the idea.
“In my judgment, no other department better symbolizes the waste and duplication prevalent in the federal government than Commerce,” said then-Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich., back in 1995, addressing the Heritage Foundation.
The agency’s website says, “The mission of the department is to create the conditions for economic growth and opportunity. As part of the Obama administration’s economic team, the secretary of commerce serves as the voice of U.S. business within the president’s cabinet. The department works with businesses, universities, communities, and the nation’s workers to promote job creation, economic growth, sustainable development, and improved standards of living for Americans.”
Under Kasich’s proposal, a department that makes up almost half the commerce department’s budget — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which includes the National Weather Service and National Hurricane Center — would be moved to the Department of Interior.
“Sometimes the best government is the government that doesn’t exist,” the Kasich fact sheet says. “That is definitely true in the case of the Commerce Department. Its various pieces and parts do not belong together.”
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office would become a standalone agency. The department’s international trade functions would be divvied up between the State Department and the International Trade Commission. An economic development grant program would be folded into the Housing and Urban Development agency.
Kasich would combine the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis with the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, and merge the Minority Business Development Agency into the Small Business Administration.
Although closing and moving offices could bring initial cost increases, the Kasich administration say the money would be more than recouped over time.
“Savings would vary based on how and where offices are moved, but overall savings would be significant: for every one percentage point reduction in spending, approximately $1 billion would be saved over 10 years,” the governor’s plan says.
©2015 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.