N.J. business advocates cautious on Obama’s planned reorganization

Jessica Perry//January 16, 2012

N.J. business advocates cautious on Obama’s planned reorganization

Jessica Perry//January 16, 2012

Executives with two prominent New Jersey trade groups say they would support President Barack Obama’s proposal to merge six federal business and commerce agencies — as long as their services to the state’s industries don’t suffer as a result.

Michael Egenton, senior vice president with the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said the group has always stood behind the idea of streamlining the federal government, but is approaching this latest plan cautiously. If an agency like the popular Small Business Administration is at risk, he said, the proposal would do more harm than good.

“We support it conceptually, but we need to make sure it doesn’t diminish or reduce the function of those key agencies,” said Egenton, the chamber’s government affairs liaison. He added that “everyone collectively … (is) pointing to the fact that middle-market and smaller businesses will be the key to getting us out of the economic doldrums that we’re in.”

The Small Business Administration is one of six agencies that Obama cited Friday as he outlined a plan to reorganize and consolidate the federal government. The agencies also include the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, and pieces of the Department of Commerce.

The proposal was part of a broader pitch by Obama, who called on Congress to grant him the authority to streamline government. He noted in a statement that “almost every president from Herbert Hoover to Ronald Reagan had reorganization authority.”

“This is the same sort of authority that every business owner has to make sure that his or her company keeps pace with the times,” Obama said.

If done correctly, Egenton said, any plan to streamline the federal government could mirror a trend in New Jersey under Gov. Chris Christie. He pointed to the administration’s move to centralize several state business functions under the Business Action Center, which opened in 2010, and efforts to streamline the Department of Environmental Protection.

Still, Philip Kirschner, president of New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said “generally the business community doesn’t care so much how it’s organized, as long as the services are effective and remain intact.”

Like Egenton, Kirschner said New Jersey businesses have a large stake in the survival of the Small Business Administration, which would become a cabinet-level post under Obama’s proposal. The SBA “has a very good reputation over decades” from providing loans, advice and support to Garden State merchants, Kirschner said.

“I don’t think business people are interested in seeing that agency’s role diminish or its programs diminish,” he said. “Hopefully, through this, they will in fact be increased.”