Commerce Department

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Commerce Department

The Department of Commerce (DOC) is an agency of the Executive Branch of the federal government that promotes international trade, economic growth, and technological advancement. It performs many activities related to business, trade, and technology. Its numerous divisions work to foster business growth and to create jobs; to prevent Unfair Competition in foreign trade; to distribute economic statistics and studies for use by businesses, the government, and the general public; to support and conduct scientific, engineering, and technological research and development; and to promote foreign trade and U.S. exports. As part of its broad mission, the DOC administers the Bureau of the Census, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Weather Service, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and several other major government agencies.

Originally part of the Department of Commerce and Labor, which was created in 1903, the Department of Commerce was established as a separate entity by law on March 4, 1913 (U.S.C.A. § 1501). The secretary of commerce sits on the president's cabinet along with the secretaries of the 13 other executive agencies of the federal government and other selected executive officials.

Although the activities of the Department of Commerce are not always prominent in the American consciousness, the department's efforts in administering economic programs have a major effect on the average citizen. Under the administration of President george h.w. bush, the Department of Commerce has administered a number of programs designed to enhance economic growth and to stimulate economic progress in the wake of a recession.

Economics and Statistics Administration

The Economics and Statistics Administration, supervised by the undersecretary for economic affairs, advises the president on economic developments and macroeconomic and microeconomic policy. It also makes economic forecasts and presents current economic data to the public through the National Trade Data Bank and the Economic Bulletin Board. The office oversees the Bureau of the Census and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The Bureau of the Census was officially established as a permanent office on March 6, 1902 (32 Stat. 51). Its major duties are authorized by the Constitution (which requires that a census of the U.S. population be conducted every ten years) and by laws codified in Title 13 of the U.S. Code. By law, the census data collected from individuals must be kept confidential. However, statistics collected from the data are published for use by Congress, the executive branch, and the general public. The Bureau of the Census collects data on housing, agriculture, state and local governments, business, industry, and international trade. The bureau also publishes projections of future population trends. For a fee, the bureau will search records and furnish certificates to individuals who require evidence of age, relationship, or place of birth. The headquarters of the bureau is located in Suitland, Maryland, and the bureau operates 12 regional offices.The Bureau of Economic Analysis, formerly the Office of Business Economics, was established on December 1, 1953. The bureau prepares and interprets statistics on the gross domestic product, personal income, foreign trade, and many other national accounts relating to commerce. It makes statistics available through numerous media and publications, including the monthly Survey of Current Business.

Bureau of Export Administration

The Bureau of Export Administration, with its offices of Export Administration and of Export Enforcement, directs the nation's export control policy, including the processing of export license applications. Export Administration oversees export licensing. It assesses whether export controls should be imposed upon specific products, with particular regard for the potential danger to U.S. national security that may result if the products are exported. This office works with U.S. allies to advocate for better ways of controlling strategic exports. Export Enforcement investigates violations of export-control laws, including possible diversions of exports to countries that are forbidden to receive particular products.

Economic Development Administration

The Economic Development Administration, established in 1965, works to generate economic and job growth in the United States, including developing the economies of distressed areas experiencing high unemployment; low income levels; or sudden, severe economic hardship. It funds public-works projects for public, private nonprofit, and American Indian groups, including industrial parks, roads, water and sewer lines, and airports. It also provides technical assistance and grants in order to promote business development.

International Trade Administration

Created in 1980, the International Trade Administration (ITA) works to improve the international trade position of the United States. The ITA oversees nonagricultural trade operations of the U.S. government and supports the efforts of the office of the u.s. trade representative. It includes the offices of International Economic Policy, Import Administration, and Trade Development, and the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service. The last agency produces and markets services and products to promote U.S. exports, including seminars and conferences on international trade.

Minority Business Development Agency

Formerly the Office of Minority Business Enterprise, the Minority Business Development Agency was established in 1979. It helps to develop minority-owned businesses. The agency operates a network of six regional offices and four district offices that provide technical and managerial assistance to business owners and entrepreneurs.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was formed in 1970. It is authorized to explore and to map the global ocean and its living resources; to analyze and predict conditions of the atmosphere, ocean, sun, and space; to monitor and issue warnings regarding destructive natural events such as hurricanes, tsunamis, and tornadoes; and to assess the changing condition of the environment. Included in this wide mandate are such activities as protection of marine species; preparation of nautical and aeronautical charts and geodetic surveys; prediction of ocean tides and currents; satellite observation of the atmosphere and oceans; and management of ocean coastal zones. Offices of the NOAA include the National Weather Service; the National Marine Fisheries Service; the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service; the National Ocean Service; and the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research.

National Telecommunications and Information Administration

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) was formed in 1978. It is responsible for advising the president on telecommunications policy; developing and presenting national plans at international communications conferences; managing federal use of the radio frequency spectrum; and administering the National Endowment for Children's Educational Television. Offices of the NTIA include the Public Telecommunication Facilities Program, which provides grants to extend delivery of public telecommunications services to as many citizens as possible, and the Institute for Telecommunication Sciences, which operates a research and engineering laboratory in Boulder, Colorado.

Patent and Trademark Office

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) awards Patents, which give inventors exclusive rights to their inventions, and registers Trademarks, which provide businesses and organizations with rights to symbols and other features that distinguish their products or services. The PTO issues three types of patents: design patents, plant patents, and utility patents. A patent is valid for 20 years from the date when the application was filed. The PTO also participates in legal proceedings involving patents or trademarks; advocates for strengthening Intellectual Property protection worldwide; and maintains a roster of qualified patent agents and attorneys.

Technology Administration

The Technology Administration helps businesses to develop technology that will increase their competitiveness in the marketplace. It identifies and attempts to remove governmental barriers to the commercialization of U.S. science and technology; helps to identify priority technologies; monitors foreign competitors' progress in technology; advises the president on issues concerning commercial technology and related policy; and promotes joint efforts among business, government, educational institutions, and nonprofit organizations. The office also manages the National Medal of Technology Program, the president's highest technology award.

The Technology Administration operates the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), which collects and distributes scientific and technical information generated by the U.S. government and foreign sources. Its collection comprises over 2 million works. The NTIS Bibliographic Database is available on CD-ROM or online through commercial vendors. The Technology Administration produces the Federal Research in Progress Database, a summary listing of 140,000 federally funded research projects in progress. The NTIS also licenses governmentowned inventions, operates the FedWorld computer system, and makes available a major Japanese on-line information system. The NTIS is a self-supporting agency, collecting its revenues through sales of its research products.

National Institute of Standards and Technology

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) was founded in 1901 as the National Bureau of Standards and was renamed in 1988. In addition to its traditional role as developer and protector of national standards of measurement, the institute has increasingly been called upon to help industry to use technology to improve product quality and reliability, improve manufacturing processes, and more rapidly bring to market products that use new scientific discoveries. The NIST administers the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, first established in 1987, which recognizes outstanding quality achievement in business. The institute operates a world-class center in Boulder, Colorado, for science and engineering research, including research in the fields of chemistry, physics, electronics, materials science, computing, and mathematics. Its headquarters is located in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

U.S. Travel and Tourism Administration

Established in 1981, the U.S. Travel and Tourism Administration formulates and implements national policy relating to travel and tourism. It develops trade and statistical research programs to assist the tourism industry, and aids small- and medium-sized travel and tourist businesses. It operates regional offices in Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London, Mexico City, Milan, Paris, Sydney, Tokyo, and Toronto, as well as a Miami office that services South American markets.

Web site:

Further readings

U.S. Government Manual Web site. Available online at <> (accessed November 10, 2003).

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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