What Do These Departments Do?   1 comment

So, the other night Brad was trying to distract me so he could snitch bacon bits out of the greens in advance of the meal being served, and he asked me a question that dumbfounded me.

What is the difference between the Department of Commerce and the Department of Labor and why can’t they be combined?


Hmph! Well, I don’t know. Or didn’t. And probably still don’t, but I researched it … because that’s what I do and why shouldn’t I share that with you.

This question, by the way, has bothered Brad in the past … but then it was the State of Alaska’s two separate departments of Commerce and Labor and we never got a satisfactory answer to that either.


The cabinet level Department of Commerce and Labor was formed in 1904 (under the administration of progressive Theodore Roosevelt). The separate Department of Labor was formed when Woodrow Wilson became president in 1913 and the agencies in the Department of Commerce specializing in labor were transferred to the new Department.

The Department of Commerce is sort of a confusing agency because nobody really knows what it does. The Department website states its mission is to create conditions for economic growth and opportunity. Mostly Secretaries of Commerce have been rich buddy to the sitting president. Trump hasn’t changed that as he has designed billionnaire Wilbur Ross. The press has really been up in arms about Ross’s wealth, but they might want to check out Penny Pritsker, the current Secretary (you know, appointed by Barack Obama) who is every bit as rich as Ross.

How come nobody howled when she was appointed?

Right, she’s Secretary of Commerce, so nobody was paying attention. And, they wouldn’t be now if the sitting president weren’t someone the media loath.

Image result for image of commerceThere are about a dozen agencies and bureaus under Commerce. Can you name one? How about two? You probably do know something about the US Census Bureau and have a vague notion of what the US Patent and Trademark Office does. Do you know what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration does?  Brad, a weather geek, knew that one. Want to try to a fourth? Nobody in my house could, although we guessed at what they did based on the names after I looked them up. What do you suppose is the purpose of the National Technical Information Service and the National Institute for Standards and Technology? I don’t know the difference between the Economics and Statistics Administration and the Bureau for Economic Analysis. I suspect nobody, not even the employees, does.

What’s more, it appears that a lot of what is done by these agencies is done elsewhere in the federal bureaucracy. We decided that about six of these agencies/bureaus/institutes could be downsized or eliminated and almost nobody would notice.


Anytime Woodrow Wilson and his progressives are involved in anything, I hear bells go off. They apparently thought that labor being combined with commerce would be bad for labor. So, let’s look at what’s gone on with the Department of Labor.

Image result for image of laborThe Secretaries of Labor have varied widely depending on the philosophy of the president at the time. Thomas Perez, who served under Obama, couldn’t be more different than Andry Puzder, the current Secretary-designee. They both male humans, but they don’t have much else in common. Perez, a lawyer, has never had a job in private industry while Puzder is a buinessman who runs one of the largest restaurant chains in the country.

This stark contrast speaks volumes about what the two presidents wanted to accomplish with the Department.


Labor appears to have 19 agencies under it. Their website is very confusing as to what is a bureau or agency under the Labor Deptartment and what is an administrative office. The mission as stated on their website is:

to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.

We couldn’t guess as to what some of these agencies do. Couldn’t the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the Benefits Review Board and the Employee Benefits Security Administration combine? And why do we need a Bureau of International Labor Affairs? Would we even notice if these agencies went away? Would anyone complain except a few public employee union leaders?

These two departments came into being together. They have pretty similar interests. Business employs labor and labor needs business if labor wants to make a living. So why are they separated and pitted against one another? Maybe if they talked to one another, they might find common ground and a combined mission –

to promote commerce that creates more good paying full-time jobs for Americans.

If Trump really wants to make the federal bureaucracy more efficient, he could recombine these two Departments, do away with half their agencies and bureaus, and shrink the federal workforce employed there.

Just one suggestion.



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