President Barack Obama is asking Congress for authority to merge a series of federal agencies that deal with trade and commerce.
Addressing reporters in the East Room of the White House, he said consolidating the U.S. Commerce Department with several other federal agencies would save money, boost global trade and make the government more efficient.
"We live in a 21st-century economy, but we have still got a government organized for the 20th century," he said. "Our economy has fundamentally changed, as has the world, but our government, our agencies, have not."
Obama wants to consolidate the work and staff of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the Trade and Development Agency, among others.
According to the administration, the initiative would effectively eliminate the Commerce Department and replace it with a central business-related agency, saving about $3 billion over 10 years and cutting about 1,000 jobs.
Early in his term, the president set a goal of doubling U.S. exports by 2014. He said Friday the consolidation would make it easier for the government to help American businesses reach overseas markets.
"[It would be] one department where all our trade agencies would work together to ensure businesses and workers can better export, by better enforcing our trade agreements," he said. "One department dedicated to helping our businesses sell their products to the 95 percent of global customers who live beyond our shores."
The president will need approval from Congress for the broadened authority to reorganize the federal agencies, an authority presidents had for much of the 20th century, White House officials said.
Republican lawmakers have criticized the president repeatedly for increasing government spending and running large deficits.
The plan's emphasis on small businesses could be related to Obama’s election-year efforts to appeal to middle-class voters on economic issues.
The merger of business-related agencies is expected to be the first of several Obama initiatives intended to streamline government.