Read all posts from June 2009

  • In recent years, there has been a renaissance in "incentive prizes" – which reward contestants for achieving a specific future goal.
    The Ansari X Prize, for example, provided a purse of $10 million for the first team to fly a privately built spaceship to 100 kilometers twice in one week, and the X Prize Foundation has launched prize competitions for lunar landers, super-efficient cars, and a device that can sequence 100 human genomes in 10 days. The Sunlight Foundation launched a Data.Gov Challenge with a prize purse to the creators of the most compelling applications that provide easy access to and understanding of government data. Government agencies such as DARPA, NASA, and the Department of Energy are backing prizes in unmanned ground vehicles, high-efficiency lighting, and green aviation. A broader range of prizes (and different goals and models for incentive prizes) are described in a recent report by McKinsey.
    Under some circumstances, prizes have a number of advantages over traditional grants and contracts, and can allow the government to:
    • Only pay for results.
    • Establish a bold and important goal without having to choose the path or the team that is most likely to succeed.
    • Attract new entrants such as small entrepreneurial firms.
    • Stimulate private sector investment that is larger than the size of the purse.
    • Capture the public imagination and change the public’s perception of what is possible.
    The Open Government Initiative is interested in exploring how the government might partner with foundations, non-profits, philanthropists, and the private sector to support additional high-impact prizes, and to harness the power and reach of "innovation marketplaces" to achieve important goals.   For example, one non-profit is offering a $1 million reward for techniques for measuring the progression of Lou Gehrig’s disease that could accelerate the development of new drugs. Some prizes are more modest, such as the $5,000 prize offered by the Chicago Chamber of Commerce for the best ideas to reduce greenhouse gases by increasing mass transit ridership.
    What prizes do you think the government should consider sponsoring?  Give us your comments at the OSTP blog.
    Thomas Kalil is Deputy Director for Policy with the Office of Science and Technology Policy and author of a 2006 paper for the Hamilton Project on prizes.

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    Over the past decades, government has often haphazardly weakened and jettisoned the regulations on the financial sector that were designed to bring stability to the economy.  The result has been what the President refers to as a "bubble and bust" economy, leaving American families at the whim of greed and excess far beyond their control and hundreds of miles away.  As the President said today, it is indisputable that this peril was a leading contributor the economic breakdown America has seen over the past years.
    Today marked a culmination of a months-long process in which the President consulted with the most expert and experienced regulators, leaders in Congress, and his entire economic team to craft a revamping of the system, a "new foundation" on which our economy can grow for decades to come.  Many of them joined him today as he announced the principles they had agreed upon.
    The President began his remarks by diagnosing the problem:
    In recent years, financial innovators, seeking an edge in the marketplace, produced a huge variety of new and complex financial instruments. And these products, such as asset-based securities, were designed to spread risk, but unfortunately ended up concentrating risk. Loans were sold to banks, banks packaged these loans into securities, investors bought these securities often with little insight into the risks to which they were exposed. And it was easy money -- while it lasted. But these schemes were built on a pile of sand. And as the appetite for these products grew, lenders lowered standards to attract new borrowers. Many Americans bought homes and borrowed money without being adequately informed of the terms, and often without accepting the responsibilities.
    Meanwhile, executive compensation -- unmoored from long-term performance or even reality -- rewarded recklessness rather than responsibility. And this wasn't just the failure of individuals; this was a failure of the entire system. The actions of many firms escaped scrutiny. In some cases, the dealings of these institutions were so complex and opaque that few inside or outside these companies understood what was happening. Where there were gaps in the rules, regulators lacked the authority to take action. Where there were overlaps, regulators lacked accountability for their inaction.
    He spelled out in depth the prescriptions he is proposing.  For those who would like to read about the plan in the greatest possible detail, may we suggest the exhaustive White Paper produced by the Treasury Department (pdf).  For the briefest possible overview, try the event announcement.  And for those with more specific interests, the fact sheets below are also available on each of the core principles:
    The President concluded by making clear the necessity of the solution:
    There's always been a tension between those who place their faith in the invisible hand of the marketplace and those who place more trust in the guiding hand of the government -- and that tension isn't a bad thing. It gives rise to healthy debates and creates a dynamism that makes it possible for us to adapt and grow. For we know that markets are not an unalloyed force for either good or for ill. In many ways, our financial system reflects us. In the aggregate of countless independent decisions, we see the potential for creativity -- and the potential for abuse. We see the capacity for innovations that make our economy stronger -- and for innovations that exploit our economy's weaknesses.
    We are called upon to put in place those reforms that allow our best qualities to flourish -- while keeping those worst traits in check. We're called upon to recognize that the free market is the most powerful generative force for our prosperity -- but it is not a free license to ignore the consequences of our actions.
    This is a difficult time for our nation. But from this period of challenge, we can once again tap those values and ideals that have allowed us to lead the global economy, and will allow us to lead once again. That's how we'll help more Americans live their own dreams. That's why these reforms are so important. And I look forward to working with leaders in Congress and all of you to see these proposals put to work so that we can overcome this crisis and build a lasting foundation for prosperity.
     

  • Since his Inauguration, the President has called on all Americans to serve our communities and be a part of building a better future for our country. And given this unique moment in our history with the unprecedented challenges we are facing, there isn't a more important time than now for us to get involved.

    That is why today the President is announcing United We Serve -- a call to action for all Americans to volunteer this summer and be part of building a new foundation for America, one community at a time.

    We know that ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things when empowered with the proper tools. The Corporation for National Service, the federal agency dedicated to fostering service in communities across the country, is providing those tools on their website, Serve.gov. They make it easy to not only find volunteer opportunities in our neighborhoods, but also to create and promote our own projects.

    It's time to roll-up our sleeves and get to work. Watch the President's announcement below and get started at Serve.gov.

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  • Last week, Vivek Kundra and Katie Stanton talked about the efforts underway to introduce more Web 2.0 technologies to the federal government sites and to open more back-and-forth communication between the American people and the government. Some of this naturally requires the adoption of new approaches and innovative technologies. But another big part of this is updating existing practices and how these tools can be used to break down barriers to communication and information.
    We continue to ask for your feedback, but the best feedback is informed feedback. So what follows is background on current policies and some examples of what we’ve heard from you during the Brainstorming phase of our outreach.
    PAPERWORK REDUCTION ACT: The Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) was written in 1980 with the aim of cutting back on administrative and paperwork burdens on the public – the classic cutting red tape idea. The PRA also is designed to ensure that the information collected from and provided to the public has the greatest possible utility. The PRA lays out broad principles for the collection, management, and dissemination of federal information. For example, the law encourages agencies that provide data in electronic format to make the raw data available to the public, much in the spirit of efforts like the recently launched Data.gov
    One of the most notable parts of the PRA is that it requires agencies to make public their reasons for levying paperwork requirements on the public and to ask for public comments before actually taking that step. In the Web 2.0 environment, this requirement opens the door for a more direct back-and-forth between the agencies and the American people. This results in increased transparency and a more direct role for the public in shaping the direction of their government’s policies.
    Of course, the PRA process has resource implications for agencies. As one federal employee noted in the Brainstorm, "I’m sure everyone here knows the trouble that the PRA imposes on interactive web innovations. It imposes a burden to obtain any user-generated input . . . The result is that we often don’t go to the trouble." Others have commented that the Act creates ambiguity about when its provisions apply to interactive activities like blogs and wikis.
    Moving forward, we hope that the PRA can be a stronger tool to promote stronger citizen participation in the digital age. We want to hear from you on how we can make the PRA work most effectively.
    FEDERAL COOKIE POLICY: This has been a challenging issue to navigate. Put in place in 2000 to protect the privacy of Americans, the federal cookie policy limited the use of persistent cookies by federal agencies. A cookie, as many readers here know, is a small piece of software that tracks or authenticates web viewing activities by the user. In the nine years since this was put in place, website cookies have become more mainstream as users want sites to recognize their preferences or keep track of the items in their online shopping carts. We’ve heard a lot of feedback on this area. One person put it all together. "Persistent cookies are very useful as an indirect feedback mechanism for measuring effectiveness of government web sites . . . Cookies allow a greater level of accuracy in measuring unique visitors . . . Being able to look at returning visitors allows us to see what content is important to our citizens. We can use that data to improve the content and navigation of our sites." 
    Recognizing the fundamental change in technology in the past nine years, and the feedback that we’ve received so far, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is reexamining the cookie policy as part of this Open Government Initiative. There is a tough balance to find between citizen privacy and the benefits of persistent cookies, and we would welcome your thoughts on how best to strike it.
    RECORDS MANAGEMENT: Records Management law protects transparency and accountability by ensuring that government preserves "records containing adequate and proper documentation of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions of the agency."  The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has developed detailed guidance to agencies on how to keep electronic records.  NARA is also working to develop guidance on managing records for new, collaborative, and social media environments and working on strategies to assist agencies on how to most effectively implement these new policies. 
    As we learn, how to implement these policies for emerging media are there ways to make the law easier to follow and more effective?
    FEDERAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE ACT (FACA): FACA is intended to ensure that the "numerous committees, boards, commissions, councils, and similar groups which have been established to advise officers and agencies in the executive branch of the Federal Government" do so in the open, and that the membership of these advisory groups be balanced.  Despite the fact that new tools facilitate open and transparent participation in the spirit of FACA, we’re hearing from some of you that there is a reluctance to embrace participatory innovations for fear of triggering the requirements of this law.
    That leads us to some questions: Does FACA safeguard transparency while enabling civic engagement?  Is there room for any improvement in the law, policy or technology that will realize both the letter and the spirit of FACA? How can we enhance FACA through technology?
    There’s a common theme on this blog: you. We want to hear from you, get your ideas, and learn from your suggestions. In some cases, laws or policies might eventually need to change or we might simply need to look at ways to apply them in the context of a changing technological environment. Let us know what you think about the policy context for Web 2.0 in the federal government.
    As usual, let us know your thoughts at the OSTP blog.
    Vivek Kundra is Federal CIO, Michael Fitzpatrick is Associate Administrator, OMB Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs

  • OMB Director Peter Orszag makes clear where fiscal responsibility lands in the health care reform debate:
    Readers of this blog are familiar with my argument: Our fiscal future is so dominated by health care that if we can slow the rate of cost growth by just 15 basis points a year (0.15 percentage points), the savings for Medicare and Medicaid would equal the impact from eliminating Social Security’s entire 75-year shortfall.

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    The sounds of Jazz could be heard through the halls of the White House today as the First Lady hosted the first installment of the White House music series. The Jazz Studio brought in over 140 students from schools across the country to get the opportunity to learn from, and interact with, Jazz greats. 
    Students explored the core elements of Jazz through educational workshops. These interactive sessions got students up and moving: dancing and breaking out their instruments, as they learned about everything from individual legends like Duke Ellington to the broader history of Jazz and its African-American roots.  Kemba, 15, said this Jazz Studio opened her eyes to a style of music she doesn’t know much about: "I love all different types of music, but I never learned much about jazz. So this experience is great because it’s really teaching me."
    The First Lady stated that she wanted to hold today’s event because the White House should be the People’s House. She went on to explain why she wanted to bring this particular style of music to the White House: Jazz is globally recognized as America’s music, and considered by many to be one of America’s greatest gifts to the world, she said. Therefore, it is essential to preserve and protect it in schools across America so it can be enjoyed by generations to come.  "The understanding and appreciation of jazz is integral to understanding and appreciating American history and culture," she said.  "It's an outstanding artistic model of individual expression and democratic expression, as well.  And there's probably no better example of democracy than a jazz ensemble:  individual freedom, but with responsibility to the group."
    For many of the students, music is one of their greatest loves, and their arts education has been central to their development.  Luke, 18, explained that he feels music is his calling, "It is so expressive. When it comes to playing, I feel I can express myself at the deepest level."
    Anthony, 17, has been playing the saxophone since the 4th grade. He said in addition to being able to express himself, playing music has taught him "no matter what people say, you have the ability to be whoever you want to be."
    After the First Lady’s remarks, everyone was treated to a rousing performance by Paquito D’Rivera, Tony Madruga, Zach Brown, Kush Abadey and Elijah Easton, who is a 17-year-old student at the Duke Ellington School of Music.
    This was just the first of an on-going series that will include Country and Classical events later in the summer and fall. The purpose of the White House music series is to support the arts and demonstrate the importance of arts education in America, which encourages the ability to think creatively.  As one student, Alexander, 17, explained: "Playing music helps me in all academics – math, science especially, and it makes you more interested in the arts." He added, "I can’t live without the violin. Always wanting to be better, practicing – you can’t stop once you start!"

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    Report CoverToday, the White House helped to launch a new science report representing a consensus of 13 agencies developed over a year and half and focused on potential climate change impacts on the United States.
    Read the report [UPDATE: The event has now concluded.]View the powerpoint presentation
    It’s the most comprehensive report to date on the possible impacts of climate change for everyone across America, and begins an important process of redefining the sort of information we need in order to deal with climate change at national and regional scales. Effectively managing our response to a changing climate falls into two general categories:
    • Implementing measures to limit climate change and therefore avoid many of the impacts discussed in the report. These measures must reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and might include increasing our reliance on clean energy, and developing energy efficient technologies
    • Reducing our vulnerability and increasing our resilience to ongoing climate change in pro-active, community-based ways. Examples of this include such measures as developing more climate-sensitive building codes to keep people out of harm’s way, or planting more drought or heat tolerant crops, for example.
    As a first step in reducing the impact of climate change, we need to know what impacts we must avoid in the future, and this report, "Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States", does just that– outlining the possible direction of climate change under two broad scenarios: the first if we reduce greenhouse gas emissions aggressively, and the second, if we are less aggressive. These are neither the highest or lowest possible scenarios but begin to compare the possible futures for the U.S.
    An important element of this new report, apart from that it is deliberately written in plain language so we can all read and understand the science in it, is that it dives down in the various regions of the U.S. and provides much more regional detail about possible impacts than ever before – critical information for an effective response. It also breaks down the potential climate change impacts by economic and social sectors, most of which transcend regional boundaries, such as water, energy, health, transportation, and agriculture – all vital components of a healthy and stable society.
    Report Cover
    The report notes climate change impacts that we are already seeing across the U.S. as well as those that will soon emerge or become more intense if action is slow to occur. Some of the impacts that the report mentions are:
    • More rain is already coming in very heavy events, and this is projected to increase across the nation. This would have impacts on transportation, agriculture, water quality, health, and more;
    • Heat waves will become more frequent and intense, increasing threats to human health and quality of life, especially in cities;
    • Warming will decrease demand for heating energy in winter and increase demand for cooling energy in summer. The latter will increase peak electricity demand in most regions;
    • Water resources will be stressed in many regions. For example, snowpack is declining in the West, and there is an increasing probability of drought in the Southwest, while floods and water quality issues are likely to be more of a problem in most regions;
    • In coastal communities, sea-level rise and storm surge will increase threats to homes and infrastructure including water, sewer, transportation and communication systems.
    Gulf Coast Area Roads at Risk from Sea-Level Rise
    Gulf Coast Area Roads at Risk from Sea-Level Rise
    Through identifying the climate change impacts we are experiencing now, as well as those that are emerging faster than we thought, and those projected to increase in the future, the report clearly highlights the choices we face regarding possible response options to reduce the impacts of climate change across the United States.
    Responses to climate change impacts in the United States will almost certainly evolve over time as we learn through experience. Determining and refining the responses will involve partnerships between scientists, policymakers, the public, private industry, communities, and decision-makers at all levels. Implementing these response strategies will require careful planning and continual feedback on the impacts of policies for government, industry, and society.
    More of the report’s findings are located at http://www.globalchange.gov , which is the new home of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the interagency Government program that commissioned the report. The report was led by NOAA.
    Dr. Anne Waple is with the US Global Change Research Program

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    Just before 6:00 this evening, the President emerged from his meeting with Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy, and they fielded questions from the press together.  They discussed the strong alliance between the two countries, demonstrated in their meeting by the Prime Minister's agreement to accept three Guanatanamo prisoners in Italy.  The first question that was asked, not surprisingly, concerned Iran though:
    Q    Mr. President, on Iran, does the disputed election results affect -- there's been violence in the street -- in any way change your willingness to meet with Mr. Ahmadinejad without preconditions?  And also, do you have anything to say, any message to send to people who are on the streets protesting, who believe their votes were stolen and who are being attacked violently?
    PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Obviously all of us have been watching the news from Iran.  And I want to start off by being very clear that it is up to Iranians to make decisions about who Iran's leaders will be; that we respect Iranian sovereignty and want to avoid the United States being the issue inside of Iran, which sometimes the United States can be a handy political football -- or discussions with the United States.
    Having said all that, I am deeply troubled by the violence that I've been seeing on television.  I think that the democratic process -- free speech, the ability of people to peacefully dissent -- all those are universal values and need to be respected.  And whenever I see violence perpetrated on people who are peacefully dissenting, and whenever the American people see that, I think they're, rightfully, troubled.
    My understanding is, is that the Iranian government says that they are going to look into irregularities that have taken place.  We weren’t on the ground, we did not have observers there, we did not have international observers on hand, so I can't state definitively one way or another what happened with respect to the election.  But what I can say is that there appears to be a sense on the part of people who were so hopeful and so engaged and so committed to democracy who now feel betrayed.  And I think it's important that, moving forward, whatever investigations take place are done in a way that is not resulting in bloodshed and is not resulting in people being stifled in expressing their views.
    Now, with respect to the United States and our interactions with Iran, I've always believed that as odious as I consider some of President Ahmadinejad's statements, as deep as the differences that exist between the United States and Iran on a range of core issues, that the use of tough, hard-headed diplomacy -- diplomacy with no illusions about Iran and the nature of the differences between our two countries -- is critical when it comes to pursuing a core set of our national security interests, specifically, making sure that we are not seeing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East triggered by Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon; making sure that Iran is not exporting terrorist activity.  Those are core interests not just to the United States but I think to a peaceful world in general.
    We will continue to pursue a tough, direct dialogue between our two countries, and we'll see where it takes us.  But even as we do so, I think it would be wrong for me to be silent about what we've seen on the television over the last few days.  And what I would say to those people who put so much hope and energy and optimism into the political process, I would say to them that the world is watching and inspired by their participation, regardless of what the ultimate outcome of the election was.  And they should know that the world is watching.
    And particularly to the youth of Iran, I want them to know that we in the United States do not want to make any decisions for the Iranians, but we do believe that the Iranian people and their voices should be heard and respected.
     

  • It’s been a while since we updated you on what the President’s Cabinet is up to, but from developing international agreements to allocating Recovery Act funds here at home, they’ve been keeping busy. Here are just some of their most recent activities:
    • Today, the Department of Homeland Security launched The Blog @ Homeland Security, which will be updated frequently with news on the Secretary’s activities and events, and will discuss emerging technology that the department is developing. The inaugural post features a video from Secretary Napolitano, and declares that the primary mission of the blog is transparency.
    • The State Department announced the adoption of a joint statement by the United States and the European Union supporting the closure of Guantanamo Bay by January 22, 2010, as well as future counterterrorism cooperation. The statement declares that individual EU member states may accept detainees.  This afternoon, the President announced that Italy will be taking three detainees.
    • The Department of Justice announced a new major initiative to increase engagement, coordination and action on tribal justice in Indian Country.  Attorney General Holder will hold a Tribal Nations Listening Conference later this year to address concerns about public safety in Indian Country. The President also announced today the appointment of Kimberly Teehee as Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs.
    • Agriculture Secretary Vilsack attended the Western Governors Association meeting, where he highlighted some Recovery projects for wood-to-energy and biomass utilization, which will help create markets for low value trees. He joined several other senior officials in the Administration to discuss ways to tap into renewable energy opportunities in the West.
    • Secretary of Education Duncan spoke to the nation’s governors and state education leaders at the 2009 Governors Education Symposium. He announced that $350 million in Recovery funds will support states to develop rigorous assessments which will ensure the success of common standards.  These common standards will be research-based, and aligned with international standards.

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    This afternoon the President gave a landmark, sweeping speech on health care reform to the American Medical Association in Chicago. More so than at any time before, he explained his vision for comprehensive reform that addresses every weak point in our health care system. It is a vision that implements best practices that have allowed some towns and companies to cut costs by as much as half compared to others. It is a vision that makes sure everybody has access to quality, affordable coverage, whether your family hits a rough patch or you have a pre-existing condition. It is a vision in which patients’ and doctors’ interests are aligned. And it is a vision where Americans’ choices of doctors and coverage are maintained, and they also have a choice of a public option that can help keep private insurers honest.  It is a vision that focuses on prevention, making sure Americans stay healthy throughout their lives.
    It is well worth the while to read through the entire speech, but here are a few key excerpts, including some key points you may not have heard before:
    On the costs of inaction:
    If we fail to act -- (applause) -- if we fail to act  -- and you know this because you see it in your own individual practices -- if we fail to act, premiums will climb higher, benefits will erode further, the rolls of the uninsured will swell to include millions more Americans -- all of which will affect your practice.
    If we fail to act, one out of every five dollars we earn will be spent on health care within a decade.  And in 30 years, it will be about one out of every three -- a trend that will mean lost jobs, lower take-home pay, shuttered businesses, and a lower standard of living for all Americans. 
    And if we fail to act, federal spending on Medicaid and Medicare will grow over the coming decades by an amount almost equal to the amount our government currently spends on our nation's defense.  It will, in fact, eventually grow larger than what our government spends on anything else today.  It's a scenario that will swamp our federal and state budgets, and impose a vicious choice of either unprecedented tax hikes, or overwhelming deficits, or drastic cuts in our federal and state budgets. 
    So to say it as plainly as I can, health care is the single most important thing we can do for America's long-term fiscal health.  That is a fact.  That's a fact.  (Applause.)
    On incentives for doctors:
    There are two main reasons for this.  The first is a system of incentives where the more tests and services are provided, the more money we pay.  And a lot of people in this room know what I'm talking about.  It's a model that rewards the quantity of care rather than the quality of care; that pushes you, the doctor, to see more and more patients even if you can't spend much time with each, and gives you every incentive to order that extra MRI or EKG, even if it's not necessary.  It's a model that has taken the pursuit of medicine from a profession -- a calling -- to a business. 
    That's not why you became doctors.  That's not why you put in all those hours in the Anatomy Suite or the O.R.  That's not what brings you back to a patient's bedside to check in, or makes you call a loved one of a patient to say it will be fine.  You didn't enter this profession to be bean-counters and paper-pushers.  You entered this profession to be healers.  (Applause.)  And that's what our health care system should let you be.  That's what this health care system should let you be.  (Applause.)
    Now, that starts with reforming the way we compensate our providers -- doctors and hospitals. We need to bundle payments so you aren't paid for every single treatment you offer a patient with a chronic condition like diabetes, but instead paid well for how you treat the overall disease. We need to create incentives for physicians to team up, because we know that when that happens, it results in a healthier patient. We need to give doctors bonuses for good health outcomes, so we're not promoting just more treatment, but better care. 
    On making sure doctors and patients have all the right information:
    A recent study, for example, found that only half of all cardiac guidelines are based on scientific evidence -- half. That means doctors may be doing a bypass operation when placing a stent is equally effective; or placing a stent when adjusting a patient's drug and medical management is equally effective -- all of which drives up costs without improving a patient's health. 
    So one thing we need to do is to figure out what works, and encourage rapid implementation of what works into your practices. That's why we're making a major investment in research to identify the best treatments for a variety of ailments and conditions. (Applause.) 
    On America’s relationship with doctors:
    But my signature on a bill is not enough.  I need your help, doctors, because to most Americans you are the health care system.  The fact is Americans -- and I include myself and Michelle and our kids in this -- we just do what you tell us to do.  (Laughter.)  That's what we do.  We listen to you, we trust you.  And that's why I will listen to you and work with you to pursue reform that works for you.  (Applause.) 
    Together, if we take all these steps, I am convinced we can bring spending down, bring quality up; we can save hundreds of billions of dollars on health care costs while making our health care system work better for patients and doctors alike.  And when we align the interests of patients and doctors, then we're going to be in a good place.
    On the Health Insurance Exchange and a public option:
    Now, if you don't like your health care coverage or you don't have any insurance at all, you'll have a chance, under what we've proposed, to take part in what we're calling a Health Insurance Exchange.  This exchange will allow you to one-stop shop for a health care plan, compare benefits and prices, and choose a plan that's best for you and your family -- the same way, by the way, that federal employees can do, from a postal worker to a member of Congress.  (Applause.)  You will have your choice of a number of plans that offer a few different packages, but every plan would offer an affordable, basic package. 
    Again, this is for people who aren't happy with their current plan.  If you like what you're getting, keep it.  Nobody is forcing you to shift.  But if you're not, this gives you some new options.  And I believe one of these options needs to be a public option that will give people a broader range of choices  -- (applause) -- and inject competition into the health care market so that force -- so that we can force waste out of the system and keep the insurance companies honest.  (Applause.)
    Now, I know that there's some concern about a public option.  Even within this organization there's healthy debate about it.  In particular, I understand that you're concerned that today's Medicare rates, which many of you already feel are too low, will be applied broadly in a way that means our cost savings are coming off your backs. 
    And these are legitimate concerns, but they're ones, I believe, that can be overcome.  As I stated earlier, the reforms we propose to reimbursement are to reward best practices, focus on patient care, not on the current piecework reimbursements.  What we seek is more stability and a health care system that's on a sounder financial footing.
    And the fact is these reforms need to take place regardless of whether there's a public option or not.  With reform, we will ensure that you are being reimbursed in a thoughtful way that's tied to patient outcomes, instead of relying on yearly negotiations about the Sustainable Growth Rate formula that's based on politics and the immediate state of the federal budget in any given year.  (Applause.) 
    And I just want to point out the alternative to such reform is a world where health care costs grow at an unsustainable rate.  And if you don't think that's going to threaten your reimbursements and the stability of our health care system, you haven't been paying attention.
    So the public option is not your enemy; it is your friend, I believe. 
    Perhaps the most rousing moment of the speech came about half way through, as he stated the underlying moral basis for health reform:
    We are not a nation that accepts nearly 46 million uninsured men, women and children.  (Applause.)  We are not a nation that lets hardworking families go without coverage, or turns its back on those in need.  We're a nation that cares for its citizens.  We look out for one another.  That's what makes us the United States of America.  We need to get this done.  (Applause.)

  • Today, the First Lady is kicking off the White House’s music series with a Jazz Studio where some of the jazz greats of tomorrow will get to meet some of the jazz greats of today. Over 140 students from around the country, including strong representation from New Orleans, will participate in Jazz education workshops to learn from and interact with some of the country’s best Jazz musicians.
    Watch it streamed at WhiteHouse.gov/live. [UPDATE: This event has concluded but check back later for more.]
    To get it started, the First Lady will give a few remarks on arts education in America.   For teachers and anybody else interested, one pioneering program along those lines is the Jazz in the Schools program from the National Endowment for the Arts and Jazz at Lincoln Center. The web-based curriculum gives teachers the tools to introduce students to the sounds and stories of jazz and to build important connections between the music and our nation’s history, a perfect example of the multi-dimensional value the First Lady will emphasize.
    Following the First Lady’s remarks, Jazz greats Paquito D’Rivera, Zach Brown, Kush Abadey, and Elijah Easton will perform along with child protégés Tony Madruga with his ensemble.
    This is just the first event in the music series, look for more coming this summer and fall.

  • Later this week the President will speak in-depth on the new system of financial regulations that he and his economic team have been developing since before he was even sworn in.  The President has spoken often about the need for a new foundation for our economy, whether that is getting a hold on skyrocketing health care costs or transforming America into a clean energy economy, but as we have all seen over the past few years the unchecked greed and misguided incentives of a few can undo a great deal for the many even on their own.
    This morning Treasury Secretary Geithner and NEC Chair Larry Summers make the broader case for financial regulatory change and give a preview of what the President’s reforms will entail in an op-ed in the Washington Post:
    First, existing regulation focuses on the safety and soundness of individual institutions but not the stability of the system as a whole. As a result, institutions were not required to maintain sufficient capital or liquidity to keep them safe in times of system-wide stress. In a world in which the troubles of a few large firms can put the entire system at risk, that approach is insufficient.
    The administration's proposal will address that problem by raising capital and liquidity requirements for all institutions, with more stringent requirements for the largest and most interconnected firms. In addition, all large, interconnected firms whose failure could threaten the stability of the system will be subject to consolidated supervision by the Federal Reserve, and we will establish a council of regulators with broader coordinating responsibility across the financial system.
    Second, the structure of the financial system has shifted, with dramatic growth in financial activity outside the traditional banking system, such as in the market for asset-backed securities. In theory, securitization should serve to reduce credit risk by spreading it more widely. But by breaking the direct link between borrowers and lenders, securitization led to an erosion of lending standards, resulting in a market failure that fed the housing boom and deepened the housing bust.
    The administration's plan will impose robust reporting requirements on the issuers of asset-backed securities; reduce investors' and regulators' reliance on credit-rating agencies; and, perhaps most significant, require the originator, sponsor or broker of a securitization to retain a financial interest in its performance.
    The plan also calls for harmonizing the regulation of futures and securities, and for more robust safeguards of payment and settlement systems and strong oversight of "over the counter" derivatives. All derivatives contracts will be subject to regulation, all derivatives dealers subject to supervision, and regulators will be empowered to enforce rules against manipulation and abuse.
    Third, our current regulatory regime does not offer adequate protections to consumers and investors. Weak consumer protections against subprime mortgage lending bear significant responsibility for the financial crisis. The crisis, in turn, revealed the inadequacy of consumer protections across a wide range of financial products -- from credit cards to annuities.
    Building on the recent measures taken to fight predatory lending and unfair practices in the credit card industry, the administration will offer a stronger framework for consumer and investor protection across the board.
    Fourth, the federal government does not have the tools it needs to contain and manage financial crises. Relying on the Federal Reserve's lending authority to avert the disorderly failure of nonbank financial firms, while essential in this crisis, is not an appropriate or effective solution in the long term.
    To address this problem, we will establish a resolution mechanism that allows for the orderly resolution of any financial holding company whose failure might threaten the stability of the financial system. This authority will be available only in extraordinary circumstances, but it will help ensure that the government is no longer forced to choose between bailouts and financial collapse.
    Fifth, and finally, we live in a globalized world, and the actions we take here at home -- no matter how smart and sound -- will have little effect if we fail to raise international standards along with our own. We will lead the effort to improve regulation and supervision around the world.
     

  • The President has long noted that skyrocketing health care costs will be disastrous in terms of our long term national debt unless we pass real reform.  In this Weekly Address, the President also explains how he will cover the upfront costs of reform by eliminating overpayments from Medicaid and Medicare and driving down costs contributing to government’s health care expenditures across the board. 
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    download .mp4 (52.1 MB) | read the transcript
    UPDATE: OMB Director Peter Orszag adds some thoughts on this address and other health reform developments.

  • The Vice President made his final stop on his three-state "Road to Recovery" tour today in Kalamazoo, Michigan, at the groundbreaking of the I-94 reconstruction project. When this project was announced in April, it was the 2000th transportation construction project funded by the Recovery Act, which has now funded approximately 4,500 projects in 53 states and U.S. territories. The $43.9 million project will widen and enhance I-94, one of Michigan’s main commercial trucking corridors.
    The Vice President speaking in Kalamazoo, Michigan(The Vice President speaks at the groundbreaking of the I-94 reconstruction with  Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Senator Carl Levin, Senator Debbie Stabenow, Governor Jennifer Granholm, and other local officials in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Friday, June 12, 2009. Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
    Additionally, the Vice President announced that the Treasury Department is making available Recovery Zone Bonds, which help states and communities hit particularly hard by job losses by making it easier for local governments to obtain financing. The Vice President discussed how this will spur economic growth in Michigan, which contains three out of the top 10 recipient counties in the country:
    Folks, we get how important American institutions are to our economic well-being and to Michigan's future.  But we also know that this is a time of transition and new beginnings.  We can't just be looking back trying to save the industries -- which we are doing -- that are central to this country; we've got to look forward.  And we're doing everything we can to get Michigan back on its proud feet, standing taller than it ever has, to lead the country and lead us into the 21st century like you did in the 20th century.  And that's not hyperbole.  That's literally a fact.  You got an incredible trained workforce.  You've got an environment that's set for it.
    And part of that involves the Recovery Act.  And part of the Recovery Act we created -- we are announcing today a new recovery zone -- a new recovery zone bond program that's going to help states and communities hardest hit by this recession.  To attract new jobs and provide new investment today, the Treasury Department is making these bonds available and I'm happy to report that the state of Michigan will receive nearly $2 billion in recovery zone bonds under this program. 
     
    (The Vice President greets the crowd in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Friday, June 12, 2009. Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

  • Innovation in social technology has created unprecedented opportunity to connect you to your government in order to obtain information and services and to participate in policymaking. If you are on Facebook or MySpace, government should be accessible there, too.   This is the core of what we call "context-driven government." Government is only open if it is accessible. So we must bring the important services and issues of public interest into the online communities in which we already work, live, and play and create new communities for mutual engagement. This is why the White House has created communities on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Flickr and why we’ve established the Open Government blog for public engagement. We want to make it easy to see the latest news, photos and videos from the Obama Administration and, more important, to provide a platform for you to comment, ask and answer questions, and engage with us, your family and communities around important issues.
    This weekend we’ll do two postings about opportunities and impediments to adopting "Web 2.0 technologies" as they are often called– and creating context-driven government. This one focuses on technology. The next addresses policy.
    Innovative technologies like those referenced above are particularly relevant to this discussion because they represent new media tools that improve communication, empower users to create content, enhance information sharing, and promote collaboration. Common examples of are social networks, blogs, and wikis.
    How You Can Help
    1. Improving dissemination of government information to inform participation: The National Weather Service does a great job of taking complex satellite data and making it widely accessible to people via new and traditional channels. When you wake up, you can reach for your i-Phone, radio or newspaper and know whether it’s going to rain. How can we do this with other important government information, such as Medicaid and Medicare benefits, the state of the power grid or the Federal budget? What are the tools and techniques for democratizing access to government data?
    2. Enhancing public participation in government activities: New social technologies like this blog are making it possible to participate in government in new ways. With the right tools, there are opportunities to bring government decision-making to the people. What are the best technological strategies – in the public or private sector – for empowering government officials and the public to work together to:
      • Gather information and data to inform a policy – Regulations.gov collects public comment on agency rulemakings.
      • Generate ideas and innovations – TSA’s Idea Factory generates ideas from 40,000 employees.
      • Analyze data and underlying assumptions -- The NASA Clickworkers project invites the public to sift through images of Mars.
      • Peer-to-Patent project taps the expertise of distributed scientists and technologists to inform the patent examination process.
      • Draft policy statements – The Open Government blog will be starting a collaborative drafting process beginning next week.
      • Resolve disputes – The Morris K. Udall Foundation, a government agency, work with citizens to engage in environmental dispute resolution.
      • Distribute grants and funds - DefenseSolutions.gov allows entrepreneurs in industry and academia a way to get innovative solutions funded.
      • Engage in collective action to address a problem – The Department of Transportation is funding an online bus stop design competition.
    Share with us your ideas, examples and stories for the best innovations that could connect government and the public over at the OSTP blog as usual.
    Vivek Kundra is Chief Information Officer, Katie Stanton is Director of Citizen Participation

  • Every member of the public is touched by federal rules and regulations that have a real impact on such things as the drinking water quality; food inspection; and automobile safety. Since 2003 Regulations.gov has been the primary resource for citizens to access, view and comment on the regulations that affect their lives.
    Regulations.gov is managed by the eRulemaking Progam – an interagency program comprised of more than 30 federal departments and agencies and led by the Environmental Protection Agency. The mission of the eRulemaking Program is to increase public access to, participation in, and understanding of federal rulemaking and improve agencies’ efficiency and effectiveness in developing rules.
    As a next step in improving public access and participation in the rulemaking process, we launched the Regulations.gov Exchange on May 21, 2009. With the Exchange, we presented proposed features and functions for the Regulations.gov web site and solicited public opinions and suggestions on possible improvements. We’ve received many insightful ideas. In general, our users like:
    • RSS feeds by topic, agency, docket and search results
    • Interactive educational tools on the regulatory process
    • Personalization of Regulations.gov, including custom settings in a user profile to save searches, manage notifications and pre-populate comment forms
    • Newly proposed Regulations.gov redesign features and functions.
    The Regulations.gov Exchange is open until July 21, 2009 and we encourage users to support our efforts to improve Regulations.gov by joining the dialogue at http://www.regulations.gov/exchange.
    With this blog post, we are expanding the discussion on how to improve online public participation in agency rulemaking. In the spirit of President Obama’s Open Government Initiative, we are looking for better ways to engage members of the public, provide them with the information they need and improve the ways we meet our goals.
    We are interested in hearing your thoughts on:
    1. Regulatory Education – What is the best way to educate the public about the regulatory process, including the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs’ (OIRA) role in rulemakings? What features can we implement on Regulations.gov to help educate the public (e.g., interactive timelines and information maps relating legislation to proposed rulemakings and other documents)?
    2. Public Involvement – How do we increase public involvement in the rulemaking process and other notice and comment processes (e.g., environmental impact statements)? Would the use of common web tools increase participation (e.g., user ratings, affiliating oneself with common interests, sharelinks and social bookmarking)?
    3. Understanding the Substance of Proposed Action – In addition to what is presented in Regulations.gov (Federal Register documents; supporting scientific, technical, legal and economic analyses; and public comments), would multimedia presentations aid public understanding of a proposed action? Would a simple, plain-language abstract describing rulemakings and other actions assist public understanding? What else would aid public understanding of the substance of a proposed rulemaking or other action?
    4. Institutional Change – Many comments received during the Open Government Brainstorm called for changes among departmental and agency rulemaking processes and lifecycles. For example, many users commented on the difficulty to search and compare data across agencies. What would you recommend to remedy the situation where agencies follow their own guidelines and terms to characterize rulemakings? How could the federal government facilitate and manage such an effort? Are there successful cases studies that the have tackled such policy-driven changes in large institutions or government bodies?
    5. Increasing Public Access – A number of agencies post documents on Regulations.gov for public access and commenting that are not regulations (e.g., environmental impact statements, agency guidelines). What are your thoughts on reusing Regulations.gov to expand public access to these documents? For example, users could access these documents through distinct portals connected to Regulations.gov.
    6. Feedback on the Exchange – How do you find the Regulations.gov Exchange as a platform to interact with public stakeholders? Are there other ways to meet this challenge, such as wikis or traditional outreach like public hearings?
    We thank you for your participation. As always, you can share your comments on the OSTP blog.
    John Moses, eRulemaking Program Director

  • The United Nations Security Council sent a clear and united message today when they voted unanimously to tighten sanctions on North Korea following the nation’s recent nuclear test and missile firings.  The detonation on May 25 of the suspected nuclear device violated the 1953 armistice.
    U.N. Resolution 1874 includes a number of measures aimed at stopping North Korea’s nuclear proliferation, including tougher inspections of cargo, an expanded arms embargo, and new financial restrictions on North Korea, curbing loans and money transfers that serve as funding for their nuclear program.
    In remarks today following the vote on Resolution 1874, United States Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo said that North Korea chose a path of provocation, and now they must face the consequences. She said that the United States welcomes the strong and united response to North Korea’s nuclear test, and is committed to implementing the provisions outlined by the Security Council:
    The message of this resolution is clear: North Korea’s behavior is unacceptable to the international community, and the international community is determined to respond. North Korea should return without conditions to a process of peaceful dialogue. It should honor its previous commitments to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. It should shun provocation and proliferation. But for now, its choices have led it to face markedly stronger sanctions from the international community.
    This resolution condemns North Korea’s nuclear test in the strongest terms. It strengthens and enhances sanctions on North Korea in five critically important areas: by imposing a total embargo on arms exports from North Korea and significantly expanding the ban on arms imports; by creating a wholly new framework for states to cooperate in the inspection of ships and aircraft suspected to be carrying weapons of mass destruction or other banned goods; by calling on states and international financial institutions to disrupt the flow of funds that could support North Korea’s missile, nuclear, or proliferation activities; by committing to designate for targeted sanctions additional goods, entities, and individuals involved in North Korea’s illicit behavior; and, finally, by strengthening the mechanisms to monitor and tighten the implementation of this toughened new sanctions regime. These measures are innovative, they are robust, and they are unprecedented.
    Ambassador Susan Rice, in comments at today’s press briefing, described the resolution as "a very robust, tough regime with teeth that will bite North Korea":
     
    Well, first of all, it would be unwise for the United States or other members of the Security Council to fail to take strong action in response to a very provocative and illegal action on the part of North Korea out of concern that they may take strong action.  I mean, the point is that we needed to demonstrate -- and today we have demonstrated -- that provocative, reckless actions come at a cost and that North Korea will pay a price for its actions.
    And it is obviously the case that they have behaved irresponsibly in the past and we would not be surprised to see them behave irresponsibly in the future.  We will be focused, as I said earlier, on the full and effective implementation of this sanctions regime on our part and that of others.  And we believe that its full implementation will have a substantial impact on North Korea.
    We're working with China and Russia and South Korea, Japan, other neighboring states who have a great stake, as we do, in the issue of regional security and stability.  They went along with these measures because they also believe that a strong signal needed to be sent to North Korea, and we fully expect them to implement these cooperatively with us and others.

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    download .mp4 (159.8 MB) | read the transcript
    Around noon the President took a few minutes to address the press from the Rose Garden to praise Congress and his legislative team for the bipartisan passage of kids tobacco legislation. Like many of the bills passed in the first few months here, it is a long-overdue, common sense measure, the passage of which shows the possibility of change in Washington.
    The President also took one question on the Iranian elections being held today. Read the full transcript of his remarks below:
    THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon.  I just wanted to give a quick statement about the kids tobacco legislation that passed the Senate yesterday. 
    This bill has obviously been a long time coming.  We've known for years, even decades, about the harmful, addictive, and often deadly effects of tobacco products.  Each year Americans pay nearly $100 billion in added health care costs due to smoking.  Each day about a thousand young people under the age of 18 become regular smokers.
    For over a decade, leaders of both parties have fought to prevent tobacco companies from marketing their products to children, and provide the public with the information they need to understand what a dangerous habit this is.  And after a decade of opposition, all of us are finally about to achieve the victory with this bill, a bill that truly defines change in Washington.
    I'm proud that the House and the Senate have acted swiftly and in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion to pass this legislation that will protect our kids and improve our public health.  Along with legislation to protect credit card owners from unfair rate hikes, homeowners from mortgage fraud and abuse, and taxpayers from wasteful defense spending, this kids tobacco bill would be the fourth piece of bipartisan legislation that I've signed into law over the last month that protects the American consumer, and changes the way Washington works and who Washington works for. 
    So I look forward to signing it.  I want to thank all the people in the House and the Senate for working so hard to pass this bill in a bipartisan way.  And I want to give a special shout-out to my legislative director, Phil Schiliro.  He and his team have just done an outstanding job.  They've been working on this for a long time, even before they joined the administration. I'm really proud of them.
    All right.  Thanks, guys.  Have a great weekend.
    Q    Mr. President, how closely are you watching the Iranian elections?  How critical is it to change?
    THE PRESIDENT:  We are excited to see what appears to be a robust debate taking place in Iran.  And obviously, after the speech that I made in Cairo, we tried to send a clear message that we think there is the possibility of change.  And ultimately, the election is for the Iranians to decide, but just as has been true in Lebanon, what can be true in Iran as well is that you're seeing people looking at new possibilities.  And whoever ends up winning the election in Iran, the fact that there's been a robust debate hopefully will help advance our ability to engage them in new ways.
    All right?  Thank you, guys. 

    The President speaks on kids tobacco legislation 
    (President Barack Obama addresses the media about the passage of the kids tobacco legislation in the Rose

  • President Obama began his career as a community organizer.  He understands the power of getting involved in our own communities to shape the issues that affect our lives.  Local organizations and solutions are making a real difference in our lives.  It is by working together to shape and influence government on the local, state, and federal level that we become more powerful and effective.
    In our last posting for the Open Government Initiative, we explored how government can create more opportunities for participation in government.  Now we address what government can and should be doing to support civil society – non-profits, faith-based organizations, professional associations, and neighborhood schools – in helping to educate and prepare the public to engage with critical public issues and play a more effective role in new, open public policymaking processes. Just as the scientific community trains its professionals to participate in peer reviewing government grants, we want to identify new opportunities and strategies for communities to create the civic literacy to support engagement.
    What we learned in Phase I
    You suggested a number of ideas in the Open Government Brainstorm.  Some recommended training neighborhood facilitators in proven dialogue methods to engage a group on issues of common concern.  Others underscored the need for civic toolkits, including neutral discussion guides to facilitate community discussions on how to address local problems.  Still others suggested forums on national topics, such as combining deliberation and service on Martin Luther King Day and creating a website for groups across the nation to share their conclusions.  You can find a longer list of Phase I ideas here.
    How You Can Help
    As we seek to identify immediate policy changes that will promote greater civic participation, we need to know from you:
    1. What is the appropriate and most effective role for the government to play in fostering greater civic participation? Should the government develop content, fund the work of organizations that teach civic education, establish platforms to connect communities to each other and to government?
    2. Do you know of best practices, whether from local, state or foreign governments, or foundations that foster and support civic participation?  What are the most effective tools to get people to participate?
    3. What skills and subject areas are the most important for civic literacy today? How do we promote the kind of civic education necessary to enable people to make greater use of government data, like the information available on Data.gov, or participate in online commenting processes, like this one or regulations.gov?
    As always, let us know at the OSTP blog.
    Sonal Shah is Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, White House Domestic Policy Council, Robynn Sturm is Assistant Deputy Chief Technology Officer

  • The Vice President is getting out of Washington and traveling to communities across the country to get a few snapshots of how the Recovery Act is creating jobs and improving the nation’s infrastructure. He kicked off his "Road to Recovery" tour this morning in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, at the groundbreaking for the Route 34 bridge project.
     
    The Vice President in Pennsylvania(Vice President Joe Biden tours the construction site of the route 34 bridge with Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, Senator Arlen Specter, and site superintendent Matt Yacobenes, in in Carlisle Pennsylvania, Thursday, June 11, 2009. The construction of the site is partially funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
    The Vice President first visited the 80-year-old bridge in February, a week before the Recovery and Reinvestment Act was signed. Now, the worn out bridge is being replaced thanks to a $1.7 million Recovery Act contract, which will not only provide jobs to Pennsylvanians, but also help ensure the safety of the thousands of people who travel on the bridge daily.  This project is just one of over 4,000 transportation projects to launch since the Recovery Act was passed. The Vice President stressed that these much-needed infrastructure improvements will build the foundation for an improved transportation system in America:
    But I would also point out we're building a foundation for a new transportation system in America that's upgraded, allowing businesses and communities to be competitive again, and making people safer.
    So that's a byproduct we never talk about.  You guys in the hardhats out there do this every day, and put these roads back together and bridges back together and construct the airports.  It's not merely about the job, which is the ultimate purpose for this legislation -- the primary purpose, I should say -- but it's building a whole new foundation, for a crumbling infrastructure that has gone unattended for a long time…
     
    In fact, these investments will not only help us bounce back in the short term by providing jobs, but will also help us in the long term to become leaders in the 21st century:
    Ladies and gentlemen, we're going to be in a tough slog for awhile.  But the truth is -- the truth of the matter is that we're going to bounce back.  And when we bounce back, we're going to be stronger, better prepared, more efficient, and more competitive than any time we have been in our history.  And we are going to once again lead the 21st century like we did the 20th.  But you can't do it without a new energy plan.  You can't do it without a new infrastructure.  You can't do it without a revitalized education system.  And you can't do it without a health care system that's not draining us every single day.
    The Vice President was joined at the groundbreaking by Governor Ed Rendell, Senator Arlen Specter, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Governor Rendell talked about the real impact the bridge project will have on the lives of local Pennsylvanians, noting that some members of the building crew had been previously laid off. 
     
    The Vice President in PennsylvaniaVice President Joe Biden tours the construction site of the route 34 bridge with Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, Senator Arlen Specter, and site superintendent Matt Yacobenes, in in Carlisle Pennsylvania, Thursday, June 11, 2009. The construction of the site is partially funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
    Later in the day, the Vice President, along with Secretary Sebelius and Secretary LaHood, traveled to his next stop on the "Road to Recovery" tour -- Overland Park, Kansas, for the groundbreaking of the US Highway 69 project. The $76 million in Recovery Act funds will help reconstruct the major highway, improving traffic flow, shortening commute times and increasing access to major employment centers
    The Vice President reiterated that these projects are a down-payment on the country’s future:
    The impact of this project starting today goes well beyond the shovels we’re putting into the ground - it’s about staying competitive in the 21st century. By widening and rebuilding Highway 69, it will be easier and cheaper for the entire Kansas City area to do business, not just today, not just tomorrow, but for decades.

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