Department of Commerce

DEFINITION of 'Department of Commerce'

The Department of Commerce is a Cabinet-level section of the U.S. government that is dedicated to promoting economic growth. The department works to create jobs through sustainable development, economic growth, favorable international trade terms and the accessibility of high technology. It works closely with businesses, colleges and universities, and cities and towns to achieve those goals.

BREAKING DOWN 'Department of Commerce'

The Department of Commerce was originally part of the Department of Commerce and Labor, which was established on Feb. 14, 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt. It became a standalone department when a separate Department of Labor was established on March 4, 1913 by President Howard Taft on his last day in office.

Background

U.S. labor leaders began lobbying for a Department of Labor in the late 1860s, after the Civil War. In 1888, President Chester Arthur established the non-Cabinet level Department of Labor, which was intended to collect information about working people in the United States. In the late 1890s, pressure grew to establish a Department of Commerce to represent the interests of business. Labor leaders had been satisfied with the non-Cabinet department but objected to Cabinet status for business when it was not given to labor.

President Theodore Roosevelt believed that business and labor should work together, so as pressure for a Department of Commerce grew, he used the opportunity to elevate Labor to Cabinet status as well. Pressure from the labor movement, which felt that business and labor were working in opposition, led to the split of the two departments in 1913.

In 2012, President Barack Obama proposed in his State of the Union address that the Commerce Department be replaced by a new department dedicated to the promotion of trade and exports. That was included in his proposed budget that year, and in each year for the balance of his administration, without success.

Major Agencies

There are many bureaus and offices within the Commerce Department. The U.S. Census Bureau is among the best known, as it conducts the decennial count of Americans required by the U.S. Constitution.

The U.S. Patent and Trade Office is also mandated by the Constitution. It keeps track of new inventions and discoveries, as well as who has the right to profit from them over a given period of time. It also enforces and promotes intellectual property rights around the world.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis provides a wide range of critical statistical reports on the state of the economy. Among the best-known are the National Income and Production Accounts, which include the gross domestic product.

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