Commerce Secretary John Bryson speaks at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012. President Obama earlier this year had asked Congress to grant authority to consolidate the Commerce Department and several other agencies.
John Bryson had a tough day behind the wheel on Monday in California. But if his President gets his way, he may not have much time left as Commerce Secretary, even if he returns from a sabbatical that he announced yesterday he would be taking.
The New York Times described Bryson as "one of the lower-profile members of President Obama’s cabinet but a well-known figure in California energy and business circles." Depending on how an Obama plan announced earlier this year to consolidate the Commerce Department and several other agencies goes, Bryson's profile could go from low to non-existent. This is from Government Executive:
In January, Obama announced that if Congress agrees to restore agency consolidation authority enjoyed by presidents from the 1930s to the 1980s, he would proceed to merge six trade and business-oriented agencies into one larger department.
The legislation is called the "Reforming and Consolidating Government Act of 2012," and although the President submitted it to Congress, it appears that it's currently stalled. If it does eventually go through (and that's a big if, given that we're in sight of the November election), it contains a provision that would pre-emptively make it an authority that presidents couldn't get used to: Congress would reconsider it every two years.
The question now is whether Obama will appoint an interim Commerce Secretary (his deputy, Rebecca Blank, is currently acting Commerce Secretary). This isn't exactly an agency that fires the imagination. It's routinely discussed as a piece of the federal bureaucracy that could be killed off, most recently by Texas Gov. Rick Perry while he was running for the GOP nomination.
The Department of Commerce is routinely called out as useless. Here, for example, is Matt Welch in Reason back in 2009:
The worst news of all is that the Department of Commerce still exists. An $8.4 billion budget with38,000 employees? What are they building in there? Helpfully, the department's website lets us know, right there on the front page. At a link entitled "Commerce Department Accomplishments" you can find, um, some speeches and fact-sheets about why trade is good? Of even less help is a little front-page box entitled "Commerce and You." There you can access a nifty little population clock for the U.S. and the world, but also such marginalia as the Official Time in Your Area, Today's Weather, and (my favorite) Grant Opportunities.
Commerce contains a few important components, such as the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the Patent and Trademark office. But it's not too difficult to envision the wisdom of Obama's plan to merge it with several other agencies, creating a single agency that's primarily focused on trade. Besides, the President hasn't had much success getting people to lead the Commerce Department. Five individuals have been nominated or have held the job since 2009.
Everyone hopes that Bryson makes a full recovery from whatever caused him to lose control of his Lexus twice on Saturday. But it's entirely unclear whether his job will even exist when and if he returns to government.