Work In Progress

Dec. 21, 2004
Manufacturing czar appointment could be a ways away from taking office.

While much official fanfare accompanied the recommendation of former carpet manufacturer Albert A. Frink Jr. to fill a newly created "manufacturing czar" position in the Department of Commerce, it's possible Frink never will have the title, which officially is assistant secretary for manufacturing and services. In fact, the position itself, along with the Bush administration's "Manufacturing in America" initiative potentially could be axed after the November election if Bush is defeated. And even if Bush wins re-election, it could be six months or more before Frink receives approval from the Senate. Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans announced his recommendation of Frink April 8. Frink, who co-founded Fabrica International in 1974 with a $100,000 small business loan and grew the company to $60 million in annual revenues by 2003, is undergoing a variety of background checks, according to a Department of Commerce spokesman. Pending a thumbs up from these, his nomination will be presented to the Senate for consideration. How long could all of this take? No one knows for sure, but Michael D. Gallagher, acting assistant secretary at Commerce for communications and information, was nominated by Bush in October 2003 and as of mid-May was still under review by the Senate. Considering that both houses of Congress take a summer break in late July through early September; the prospect of an early October adjournment for Congress; and the presidential and Congressional elections in November, one could assume that the Frink appointment will not happen in 2004 -- and if Bush is defeated, probably not at all. Nonetheless, the Commerce Department is trying to push Frink through quickly. "The Bush administration wants Al Frink to be confirmed as quickly as possible so manufacturers have one of their own as an advocate within the federal government. However, the Commerce Department will continue to move forward with other initiatives outlined in the manufacturing report," says Matt Englehart, a Commerce spokesman. Specifically, Evans has committed to naming at least 10 more people to a manufacturing council that will oversee the multiple recommendations he has made to improve U.S. manufacturers' plight. Two manufacturing executives, Arthur "Don" Wainwright, CEO and chairman of Wainwright Industries, St. Peters, Mo.; and Karen Buchwald Wright, owner, president and CEO of Ariel Corp. in Mount Vernon, Ohio, have already been named. Englehart says the other council appointments could come at any time, although as of mid-May the positions were not filled. Additionally, the manufacturing initiative calls for changes in "health-care security, bureaucratic red tape termination, lifelong learning, trade fairness and opportunity, tax relief and simplification, energy self-sufficiency and security, spurring innovation," and "ending lawsuit abuse." According to a Commerce Department press release from late April, some specific actions have been taken in some of the areas, such as trade, but nothing conclusive has happened in other areas.

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