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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Presidential Reorganization Authority: History, Recent Initiatives, and Options for Congress

Henry B. Hogue
Analyst in American National Government

On January 13, 2012, President Barack Obama announced that he would ask Congress to reinstate so-called presidential reorganization authority, and his Administration conveyed a legislative proposal that would renew this authority to Congress on February 16, 2012. Bills based on the proposed language were subsequently introduced in the Senate (S. 2129) and the House (H.R. 4409) during the 112th Congress.

Should this authority be granted, the President indicated that his first submitted plan would propose consolidation of six business and trade-related agencies into one: U.S. Department of Commerce’s core business and trade functions, the Export Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Small Business Administration, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. It appears that this plan would also involve the relocation of some subunits and functions that are not directly linked with business and trade. The Administration has stated, for example, that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would be moved to the Department of the Interior.

Between 1932 and 1981, Congress periodically delegated authority to the President that allowed him to develop plans for reorganization of portions of the federal government and to present those plans to Congress for consideration under special parliamentary procedures. Under these procedures, the President’s plan would go into effect unless one or both houses of Congress passed a resolution rejecting the plan, a process referred to as a “legislative veto.” This process favored the President’s plan because, absent congressional action, the default was for the plan to go into effect. In contrast to the regular legislative process, the burden of action under these versions of presidential reorganization authority rested with opponents rather than supporters of the plan. In 1984, the mechanism was amended to require Congress to act affirmatively in order for a plan to go into force. This arguably shifted the balance of power to Congress. The authority expired at the end of 1984 and therefore has not been available to the President since then.

Presidents used this presidential reorganization authority regularly, submitting more than 100 plans between 1932 and 1984. Presidents used the authority for a variety of purposes, from relatively minor reorganizations within individual agencies to the creation of large new organizations, including the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare; the Environmental Protection Agency; and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The terms of the authority delegated to the President varied greatly over the century. During some periods, Congress delegated relatively broad authority to the President, while during others the authority was more circumscribed.

Congress might approach the question of whether, and how, to delegate this authority to the President in various ways. First, Congress could simply elect not to renew the authority, either by not acting on the President’s proposal or by actively rejecting it. In the event that Congress elects to renew presidential reorganization authority, it might do so in a number of different ways. For example, it could renew the authority without modifications, with the requested changes to the scope of the authority, with a different set of changes to the scope of the authority, with changes to the nature of the expedited congressional procedures, or with some combination of these.

Date of Report: December 11, 2012
Number of Pages: 53
Order Number: R42852
Price: $29.95

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