Commerce Manufacturing Position Could Come Quickly

By John S. McClenahen At month's end, when U.S. Commerce Secretary Donald Evans is due to release a report on steps that industry and government can take to help U.S. manufacturing grow, creation of a new manufacturing post within the Commerce Department could be well along. "I think they are reorganizing within the department, and sometimes that doesn't require legislation," notes Michael Baroody, executive vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, Washington, D.C. In a Labor Day speech to operating engineers in Richfield, Ohio, President George W. Bush said he had told Evans to create a new assistant secretary for manufacturing post in his department. Actually, the Commerce Department's Web site terms the position assistant secretary for manufacturing and services and describes the duties as helping to "address the competitive challenges and opportunities facing the U.S. manufacturing sector." A Commerce spokesman, asked Sept. 2 to explain the "manufacturing and services" title, did not respond. "The good thing about this [announcement] was that the president personally got involved and recognizes there is something the administration can do to address the long-term stagnation in manufacturing," says Thomas J. Duesterberg, president and CEO of the Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI, an Arlington, Va.-based business and public policy group. "I think presidential leadership here is fairly key." Indeed, Duesterberg indicates presidential involvement is more important for manufacturers than whether a position at Commerce is at the assistant secretary or undersecretary level. Some manufacturing groups have argued for an undersecretary's post, believing that because it would be higher in the Washington bureaucratic food chain that it would have more clout. "Part of the struggle will be to marshal the resources of a bunch of different government agencies to a common purpose. [However,] with presidential involvement it becomes a lot easier, and the question of an undersecretary versus an assistant secretary becomes less important," says Duesterberg. Congress itself has been of two minds this year on the issue of undersecretary or an assistant secretary for manufacturing. A Senate bill introduced June 25 by Sen. George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio, would create an assistant secretary of commerce for manufacturing with power to represent manufacturing interests, develop policies to promote expansion of U.S. manufacturing, review existing policies that adversely affect manufacturing and issue annual reports on U.S. manufacturing. House legislation introduced May 20 by Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich., would put such responsibilities in the hands of an undersecretary of commerce for manufacturing. As for Evans' late-September report to President Bush on manufacturing, the commerce secretary is expected to preview it on Sept. 15 in a speech at the Detroit Economic Club. In addition to the new Commerce position, Evans could touch on these topics: U.S. access to foreign markets, energy, pension funding and healthcare costs.

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