National Cotton Council Chairman Charles Parker complimented an initiative to streamline and make government more efficient, but cautioned against making changes that would undermine the effectiveness of agencies including the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) and the office of U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).

Parker, a Missouri cotton producer/ginner, was referring to President Obama’s March 11 memorandum sent to the heads of all executive branch agencies asking them to assist in the development of a plan to restructure and streamline the federal government, starting with trade and export agencies.

“Agriculture’s remarkable record in export markets is due in part to the professional staff of FAS who perform an outstanding job of gathering information and assisting U.S. exporters in successfully navigating complicated international markets,” Parker said.

“Cotton Council International, the export promotion arm of the Council, was an original participant in the highly effective foreign market development program and has a valued partnership with FAS. Any cotton industry representative who has travelled internationally will attest to the indispensible assistance provided by FAS staff stationed abroad. FAS also plays a key role in providing information to our negotiators at USTR.”

Parker also expressed concern that if USTR were consolidated with an agency like the Export-Import Bank, it could increase bureaucracy and limit USTR's ability to operate efficiently.

According to the memo, Jeffrey Zients, federal chief performance officer and the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, will lead the effort. Within 90 days of the memo date, Zients must submit recommendations for presidential and, ultimately, congressional action to restructure and streamline federal government programs focused on trade and competitiveness.

Zients will establish a Government Reform for Competitiveness and Innovation Initiative, led by an executive director, to conduct a comprehensive review of the federal agencies and programs involved in trade and competitiveness, the memo stated. According to the memo, this will include analyzing agency scope and effectiveness, areas of overlap and duplication, unmet needs, and possible cost savings.

Additionally, Zients and the executive director must consult with the heads and staff of departments and agencies, including the offices and agencies within the Executive Office of the President. They also are instructed to consult with stakeholders, including members of Congress, business leaders, unions, nongovernmental organizations and government reform experts.

At a March 11 meeting, Zients told the President's Export Council (PEC) that trade and exports would be the first area of focus. Trade issues are currently handled by 12 different agencies, which leads to “fragmentation of roles and responsibilities,” Zients said.

Parker emphasized that the NCC intends to convey strong support for FAS and USTR in Washington.

“While this undertaking is commendable, we urge the leaders of this initiative to not combine FAS or USTR with other agencies in a way that diminishes their roles in trade negotiations, promotion, enforcement and policy development,” he said.