WASHINGTON — Stepping up the Clinton Administration's campaign to save the Commerce Department, Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown suggested Wednesday that it would make more sense to expand the agency than kill it.
Testifying before a House subcommittee, Brown said abolishing the department and moving its surviving components elsewhere would cost taxpayers money.
Challenging critics who say his agency is a bloated bureaucracy, Brown said it would promote efficiency to move other government offices that are engaged in trade promotion and place them in the Commerce Department.
"I thought consolidation was a goal of the Republican Congress," Brown said in one barbed exchange with Rep. William Clinger Jr. (R-Pa.), chairman of the Government Reform and Oversight Committee.
Clinger conceded that saving money is not the main goal of proposals to dismantle the department. Making "things work better" is the aim, he said.
Republican leaders said they will schedule committee votes next week on a bill to dismantle the department. President Clinton has said he will veto it if it passes.
"I am committed to the survival of the Department of Commerce because I believe it is essential to the economic growth and well-being of this country," Brown said.
Republican sponsors of bills to abolish the department say it is a sprawling, top-heavy conglomeration that spends more than $4 billion a year on about 100 loosely related programs that duplicate the work of other federal agencies.
They say abolishing the agency--eliminating some programs and transferring others to various federal departments--would save $8 billion over five years.
But Brown said the supposed savings are illusory. Most of the money would come from cutting funds Congress has already approved in principle.