Print PDF

Acting Commerce Secretary to Depart, Still No Word on DOC or USTR Nominations

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Acting Commerce Secretary to Depart, Still No Word on DOC or USTR Nominations

On March 18 President Obama announced that Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank will be stepping down this summer to take the position of chancellor at the University of Wisconsin. The president has yet to announce a nominee for commerce secretary, an office that has been empty since John Bryson left in June 2012, but Blank said she expects a new secretary to be in place before she departs. Chicago businesswoman Penny Pritzker has been mentioned as a possible candidate.

Also on March 18 the International Trade Administration announced that Chandra Brown has taken the position of deputy assistant secretary for manufacturing, where she will be responsible for identifying key factors affecting competitiveness and barriers to exports for more than 21 industry sectors. Brown has previously served as president of United Streetcars LLC, vice chair of President Obama’s Manufacturing Council and a member of the Oregon Business Development Commission. In 2011, she won the White House Champion of Change Award in Manufacturing.

Finally, acting Office of Management and Budget Director Jeff Zients appears to be out of the running for the post of U.S. trade representative, which was vacated by Ron Kirk as of March 15 and is currently being filled in an acting capacity by Deputy USTR Demetrios Marantis. President Obama has asked Zients, whom White House spokesman Jay Carney said “has been just an enormously valuable player on the president’s economic team” and “brings a unique set of talents and wisdom to this job,” to stay on at OMB while a new director is in the process of being confirmed by the Senate.

Some lawmakers have urged the president to name as USTR someone with trade negotiating experience given the administration’s ambitious 2013 trade agenda, which includes concluding the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, launching talks on a free trade agreement with the European Union, and pursuing multilateral deals on services and information technology products. Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said at a March 19 committee hearing that “if the United States is to be taken seriously on trade policy around the world, we need a real leader at USTR who understands the agency and is capable of navigating the difficult shores of international trade negotiations.” Hatch indicated his disapproval of the possible choice of Zients to lead this agency, citing in particular a widely criticized proposal authored by Zients that would have melded USTR into a larger federal agency.

Customs & International Headlines