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Spotlight on Commerce: Dr. Rebecca Blank, Acting Deputy Secretary and Undersecretary for Economic Affairs

Acting Deputy Secretary Rebecca Blank speaks to Census 2010 crowd

Ed. Note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series, which highlights members of the Department of Commerce who are contributing to the president's vision of winning the future through their work.

Dr. Rebecca Blank is the Acting Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce and Undersecretary for Economic Affairs

As the Acting Deputy Secretary, I focus on matters of management and policy for the Commerce Department’s 12 bureaus, functioning as the department’s chief operating officer.  In this role, I oversee the central departments that coordinate DOC’s work on budgets, acquisitions, human resources, facilities, and other management issues.  I also retain my role as Undersecretary for Economic Affairs and head of the Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA), in which I oversee a talented staff of demographers, statisticians, and others at the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The statistical agencies within Commerce collect and analyze data that help to give us an accurate and complete picture of America and guide social and economic policy in the United States.

Since taking the role of Acting Deputy Secretary at the department, I feel even more responsible for helping America to “Win the Future.” This will require effective work by Commerce’s agencies to assist in growing U.S. exports, promoting domestic economic development, encouraging innovation, collecting and disseminating vital economic data, and advancing a sustainable environment in America’s oceans and atmosphere.  In the midst of tight budgets, we all recognize the need to make responsible choices about the services and programs that government provides.  But we also recognize that many of these services and programs are central to helping America’s businesses and consumers grow and stay competitive.

We need to find ways to operate and deliver results more efficiently and at a lower cost to America’s taxpayers.  I’ve been working with our leadership team to develop a long-term strategy for the Commerce Department that will reduce administrative costs so we can reduce spending while also protecting our critical programs.  This effort includes finding better ways to make government purchases, handle our facilities, and provide IT services, and implementing these changes will require breaking down some of the silos across bureaus.  For instance, we may be able to save money (without affecting performance) by sharing IT services among bureaus or purchasing items centrally at DOC rather than within each agency.  

I’ve tackled similar challenges in my previous senior management roles, particularly when I was dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.   The budgets of state universities are often under the same pressure as federal government budgets.  At the University of Michigan, I worked to expand programs at the Ford School with little prospect of additional money from central University funds.  The strategies within Commerce are different in some ways (I can’t raise money from wealthy private donors for the Census Bureau, unfortunately), but the challenge is in many ways very similar: How do we structure our institution so that it can continue to provide important public services at a time when public funding is flat (at best) or declining? The answer is found in greater efficiency of operations and a results-driven approach.

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