Commerce Post Termed Overdue

September 22, 2003
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A new position in the U.S. Department of Commerce dedicated to advocating the interests of manufacturing is a good first step, West Michigan congressmen say.

Creation of the new assistant secretary for manufacturing and services, proposed by President Bush Sept. 1, is a move that U.S. Reps. Vernon Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids, and Peter Hoekstra, R-Holland, have advocated for repeatedly in recent months.

The proposal is part of a broader strategy to help manufacturing that Commerce Secretary Don Evans outlined last week in Detroit.

Yet Ehlers, while welcoming the move, said he would like to see President Bush go further.

Ehlers backs legislation now pending in Congress that would create a higher undersecretary position in the Department of Commerce dedicated to the interests of manufacturing and developing policies that promote expansion of the sector and addressing those that adversely affect it.

“It’s an idea whose time has come 30 years ago,” Ehlers said.

The president agreed to create the new assistant secretary position at a time when manufacturing is struggling against growing global competition and has lost 2.7 million jobs since the U.S. economy turned sour in late 2000.

“They’re at least recognizing it’s a problem and they’ve got to do something about it,” Ehlers said of the president’s plan.

He sees plenty of room for compromise in the congressional bill and the administration’s intentions.

“We’ll work something out,” Ehlers said. “He’s probably not going to get everything he wants and neither will we, nor will anybody else interested in the issue.”

Hoekstra, who like Ehlers has seen his congressional district hit hard by layoffs in the office furniture industry, says he’s “encouraged” by the president’s plan for the new assistant secretary position.

“Having someone whose sole responsibility each and every day is to wake up and find and figure out how to keep and create more manufacturing in the United State is a very positive thing,” Hoekstra said.

“I hope what this can do is to lead us to have a serious discussion about how we change tax laws and other things, to make sure, on a global basis, that we stay competitive in manufacturing.”

During a Sept. 15 address to the Economic Club of Detroit, Evans said the new assistant secretary for manufacturing and services in the Commerce Department would examine the impact that environment regulatory issues would have on manufacturing.

Evans said the occupant of the post also would look at health care, worker training and employment through the same lenses.

In the address, Evans outlined a broader strategy to aid U.S. manufacturers.

A new office within the Department of Commerce, he said, will evaluate the economic impact of new federal rules and regulations, and another assistant secretary would work to expand exporting.

Likewise, Evans said an unfair trade practices group will allow the department to “track, detect and confront unfair competition.”

The president’s six-point plan, Evans said, focuses on making health care costs affordable and predictable, reducing the burden of frivolous lawsuits on the economy, ensuring an “affordable, reliable” energy supply, streamlining regulations and reporting requirements, and opening new markets for American products.

“We’re a can-do nation, a nation of winners. And the achievements of American manufacturers earned a prominent place in that legacy,” Evans said in his address.

“The president believes that our economic and national security require a stable, robust manufacturing sector that produces sophisticated and strategically significant goods here, in the United States.”

He also said recommendations in an upcoming Commerce Department report on manufacturing “will serve a common goal: making it easier, not harder, for American companies to compete in both the domestic and global marketplace.

“They will level the playing field for American manufacturers,” he added. “They will reduce unfair competition. And they will lower the burden of regulation.”            

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