What Would Wiping Out the Commerce Department Mean for Science?
President Barack Obama’s proposal to eliminate the Commerce Department promises to reignite sharp debates about the best home for its sizable but patchwork research and technology portfolio. The Commerce Department now includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and the Census Bureau. Under Obama’s plan, NOAA would migrate to the Department of the Interior, which is already home to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The rest of commerce’s scientific portfolio would be reconstituted under a new cabinet department focused on trade and economic development. Jeffrey Zients, deputy director for management at the White House Office of Management and Budget, told reporters today that it would be a “tightly knit department with four pillars.” NIST and the patent office would be part of a technology and innovation office within the new department, while the Census Bureau would join other data-collection agencies now in commerce under a new statistical division that would also pick up the Bureau of Labor Statistics from the Department of Labor. A third office would oversee trade and investment policies, while the fourth would promote small business development.