NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Heritage Backgrounder: Commerce Dept. Mission Creep And Waste

May 20, 1998

The Department of Commerce suffers from five basic problems, according to critics: mission creep, wasteful spending, an inability to design appropriate performance measures, major management deficiencies and many expired authorizing statutes.

A number of government reports agree. For instance,

  • The Department of Commerce has evolved into "a loose collection of more than 100 programs delivering services to about 1,000 customer bases," concluded a 1992 Government Accounting Office report.
  • Vice President Al Gore's National Performance Review noted "the duplication and fragmentation found within the entire federal export bureaucracy is mirrored within the Commerce Department itself."
  • And a 1997 GAO report to Congress pointed out that the Department shares "responsibility for major budget functions with 14 other departments and agencies."

Some members of Congress question why an agency that clearly is failing to accomplish any clear purpose or stated mission should exist at all, let alone receive a funding increase. Representative John Kasich (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Budget Committee, for example, has proposed that the Commerce Department be eliminated in FY 1999.

  • At least 10 laws authorizing various Commerce programs have expired, yet Congress keeps appropriating funds for those programs.
  • In FY 1998, Congress gave the Department of Commerce a 10 percent budget increase over FY 1997, raising its budget to $4.2 billion and its staff level to include 35,000 full-time employees.
  • And for FY 1999, the Commerce Department is asking Congress to give it a 16.7 percent budget hike.

Analysts note Commerce's International Trade Administration is one of at least 19 departments and independent federal agencies responsible for export promotion and management; its Economic Development Administration is one of at least 62 community and economic development programs; and its Bureau of Export Administration is one of at least 14 federal agencies charged with export control responsibilities.

Source: Angela Antonelli, "Five Good Reasons to Close Down the Department of Commerce," Backgrounder No. 1181, May 20, 1998, Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Avenue, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002, (202) 546-4400.


Browse more articles on Tax and Spending Issues