Obama reorganizes government, adds efficiencies, expands economic footprint

The White House wants to split the Department of Commerce, move its environmental unit to the Interior Department, and combine its business-related units with several trade agencies to create a new competitiveness agency.

The plan is the showpiece of an ambitious election-year effort by President Barack Obama to increase government’s role in the economy while simultaneously appearing to streamline federal bureaucracies.

Obama today portrayed the plan as an effort to reform government. “There’s a real opportunity to reform government so that it meets the demands of our time,” he said during a morning speech in the White House.

He also suggested in the speech that he would like to consolidate the 12 federal agencies that regulate the food industry and the five that regulate the housing sector.

Republicans say efforts by government functionaries to regulate the economy leads to crony capitalism, economic inefficiencies and major economic disasters. The current real estate bust, they say, was the product of government officials pushing mortgage companies to make loans to Americans who could not afford to pay them back.

But Republicans shouldn’t object to his plan because a more efficient government is “common sense,” Obama said. “Making our government more responsive, strategic and leaner — it shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” he added.

That’s a theme he has pushed every year since he took office, and it complements his efforts to increase government’s size and role, most notably, by passing a takeover of the health care sector. (RELATED: Full coverage of President Barack Obama)

This theme is playing a large role in his 2012 re-election bid, as he tries to persuade voters that government is their ally in a turbulent international economy.

If implemented, the Commerce Department reorganization would cut the clout of business groups and increase the clout of environmental groups.

It would shrink the domestic clout of the Commerce Department’s officials by focusing them on international trade.

It would also boost the power of environmental lobbies by transferring the massive climate-related resources of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to to the Department of the Interior.

“Merging NOAA with Interior gives the environmental lobby a one-stop shop … [and] creates a powerful behemoth that will be all-too-ready to trample property rights in the name of the environment,” said Iain Murray, a vice president at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

“The Interior Secretary and the [Envronmental Protection Agency] Administrator will form a powerful alliance in the President’s cabinet, and the chances of protecting the environment through responsible stewardship and free market methods will be significantly diminished as this new bureaucracy expands its power,” he warned.

That’s a goal environmental activist groups have sought for several years. If achieved, it would help Interior Department officials to fund more research needed to buttress their political campaign for control over the carbon-producing manufacturing, transport and energy sectors.