Should Commerce And Labor Be Re-Merged?

Herbert C. Hoover Building

Pie in the sky reorganization of cabinet departments is a longstanding interest of mine, so I’m glad to learn from Michael Grunwald that Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) has a bill that would undue the 1913 measure that established separate departments of Commerce and Labor. Both agencies do an awful lot of statistics-gathering that could easily be put under a single roof, and other Commerce functions could be reassigned elsewhere:

Burr’s bill would move NOAA to the Department of Interior, which is such an obviously sensible move I doubt it will ever happen. (Speaking of which, why is the Forest Service in the Department of Agriculture? Do we even need a Department of Agriculture?) It would also combine duplicative functions in the two departments, which currently function as quasi-competitors within the federal bureaucracy, except during Republican administrations, when the Labor Department barely functions at all.

As long as we’re at it, we should scrap Agriculture. Programs like the Forest Service could join NOAA in Interior, nutrition assistance could go to Health and Human Services, food safety could go to the FDA, etc. The question, of course, is whether this kind of thing would make an actual difference. In the case of Commerce, it’s a bit hard to say. The agency is kind of a grab-bag of functions, but I’m not sure that accounts for any concrete programs. With Agriculture it seems a bit clearer. There’s an actual conflict of interest between being an agency whose mission is to improve nutrition and being an agency whose mission is to promote the interests of farmers.