Just as the problems of filling several vacancies to the U.S. Senate highlighted the need to repeal the 17th Amendment, so too has President Obama’s failure to find someone, anyone, to be Secretary of Commerce highlights the utter worthlessness of the entire department.
The Commerce Department, originally known as Commerce and Labor, is a Progressive era creation (1903) which more or less was created to enforce all the new business regulations and departments created by Congress and the Theodore Roosevelt administration. Today, it’s basically an umbrella grouping for any number of different agencies handling patents, international trade, economic statistics, the National Weather Service, the U.S. Census, etc. that could all stand on their own without a super structure of bureaucracy over them. Indeed, the Obama Administration proposed to do just that with the Census which supposedly triggered Jud Gregg’s reconsideration of his appointment as Secretary. (No, I don’t believe that explanation either. Gregg’s reconsideration actually embarasses him more than it does Obama. What Administration did he think he was joining, Bush I’s?)
In fact, Sen. Gregg thought so highly of the department that he voted to kill it twice in the 1990s back when Republicans were actually serious about such things. And I doubt if one could name but more than a handful of Commerce Secretaries off top of their heads (as for me, I’ll go with Herbert Hoover, Jesse Jones, Malcom Baldrige, Robert Mosbacher and Ron Brown.) After a Wikepdia search, I find some familiar names like Harry Hopkins, Luther Hodges, W. Averrell Harriman, Henry Wallace, William Dailey, Pete Peterson, and Elliot Richardson. What do many of them have in common? They moved up to better jobs as soon as they got the chance.
So it is a position not worth much in the pecking order, even of the Washington establishment. It’s more of a administrative job than one that provides actual leadership within the U.S. business community and the only people who will take it are basically those waiting for another, more prestigious positions to open up within an Administration (you think Bill Richardson would have stayed on Commerce Secretary for four to eight years?).
In other words, it’s job that is not needed for a department that is not needed. Obama would do himself and country a big favor and instead of finding some office-seeker or placeholder to simply say “I am not appointing another person as Secretary of Commerce. In my first budget I am simply going to abolish the department.”
Sure, I know this won’t happen. But at least with post still open one can reopen the debate as to why we need a Commerce Department and I’m sure Sen. Gregg will back me up on this.