Read all posts from December 2009

  • After accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway, the President and First Lady Michelle Obama made sure to stop by the U.S. Embassy, where they greeted a group of excited staffers. The informal meeting between the President and Embassy workers was followed by a trip to the airport in the presidential motorcade where they boarded Air Force One for their trip home to Washington, D.C.

    President Obama Visits US Embassy in Norway

    President Barack Obama greets the U.S. Embassy staff in Oslo, Norway, Dec. 11, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza ) December 11, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

  • Thank you to everyone who joined in for the live chat earlier this week.  Given the critical role the American people played in shaping the Open Government Directive, it was exciting to be able to unveil it directly to all of you. There were so many excellent questions that we weren’t able to get to them all on Tuesday.   By way of this email, I will endeavor to tackle a few more.

    Dave Smith of Scranton Pennsylvania wrote: Out of the myriad data assets held in federal government, how can we prioritize and incentivize publishing those which provide maximal benefit to a large community of stakeholders?

    Great question, Dave.  Like you, I agree that it will be critical for agencies to prioritize the most valuable data sets.  That’s why the Directive asks each agency to start by identifying three high-value data sets to publish online in the first 45 days. 

    What does it mean for a data set to be high value? The Directive defines “high-value” information as “information that can be used to increase agency accountability and responsiveness; improve public knowledge of the agency and its operations; further the core mission of the agency; create economic opportunity; or respond to need and demand as identified through public consultation.”

    As you can see, public consultation is hardwired into the definition. So, we will be looking to you and your fellow Americans to identify the jewels. You can start today, by suggesting specific data sets on Data.gov. The most compelling recommendations will tell us what you will do with the data once it is released to the public. For example, when the National Archives and Records Administration published the Federal Register in XML, a number of non-profits stepped up to manipulate the information in ways that made the content more meaningful to citizens. You can learn more about the power of this public-private partnership.

    Russ Gaskin of Washington, DC commented: [W]ould like an example of what citizen participation might look like under this directive.

    Russ, I expect citizen participation initiatives to build on the outburst of creativity and experimentation we’ve seen in this space in the first 10 months of this Administration. 

    For example, Open for Questions gave Americans across the nation a direct line to the Administration to ask exactly what they wanted to know about the Administration’s efforts to get the economy back on track. Openinternet.gov enriched the official record on net neutrality with more than 22,000 comments.   Across the country and online, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been seeking the best ideas for the next generation of school reform through his Listening and Learning Tour.  A Health IT Online Forum is currently drawing on the expertise of stakeholders on the front lines of healthcare delivery to uncover new strategies to accelerate the adoption of Health IT.  And, just yesterday, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy launched the Public Access Policy Forum  to better understand how the Executive Branch might best enhance public access to peer reviewed papers arising from all federal science and technology agencies.

    Of course, I would be remiss not to mention the unprecedented three-phase public consultation process  (brainstorming, discussion, drafting) that shaped the Open Government Directive itself.   You can learn more about the Open Government Initiative public consultation process and other innovations in participatory decision making in the Open Government Progress Report to the American People and in the White House Open Government Innovations Gallery.

    At the same time, I hope that all of you will engage in the agency public consultation processes that will shape their Open Government plans. I know that Washington does not have a monopoly on the best ideas and want your ideas for how we can make participation opportunities more meaningful for citizens.

    Steve Ressler of Tampa Bay, FL asked: Will there be Open Gov Scorecard or Awards for agencies?

    Yes! As agencies implement their open government plans, we will need to measure progress and impact.  The White House Open Government Initiative will create a dashboard to track agencies’ Open Government Plans and access open government in the Executive branch.  This is another area where we will need your help. Keep your eyes peeled for a blog posting later today that will ask for your feedback on the metrics for Open Government.  We welcome your input and that of members of GovLoop. You will be able to find it right here on whitehouse.gov/open.

    With that, I will wrap up for today.  As we move to implement the Directive across the Executive Branch, I hope all of you will continue to participate, to share your expertise and insights, and to ask the hard questions.

    Aneesh Chopra is the Federal Chief Technology Officer and the Associate Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy

  • Reality Check

    Opponents of reform continue to prove they are willing to say or do anything to defend the status quo.  Today, they're out of the gate with a predictable distortion of a new report from the Actuary of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  The alarmist headline of their press release screams that the Senate health reform bill "makes health care more expensive than doing nothing at all."

    But here's what a more thorough reading reveals: the report confirms that the bill adds years to the life of Medicare, lowers costs for seniors, and slows the rate of health care cost growth.

    Since the report comes from the folks who report to the Medicare trustees, it makes sense to start by looking at what it says about the cost of Medicare.

    On that front, the report finds that the Senate health reform bill will extend the life of the Medicare trust fund by nine years.  It also provides real savings for seniors.  By 2019, the CMS reports, the bill saves seniors nearly $700 per couple per year, reducing premiums by more than $300 per year and out of pocket costs by another $370 per year.

    More broadly, the report finds that reform will have a "a significant downward impact on future health care cost growth rates."  As savings from reform kick in, national health expenditures are projected to increase at a slower annual rate under the Senate bill than under the status quo.

    And those results come even as the CMS takes a more conservative approach to measuring savings than many other independent experts have taken – meaning they may well underestimate the full effects of reform.  The CBO and other independent experts cite savings from additional critical cost-control provisions such as:

    • Injecting accountability, competition, and choice into the system through the new insurance exchange.
    • Giving providers incentives to coordinate care.
    • Transforming Medicare payment policies – which in turn influence the private sector – to reward quality of care.

    So how did reform's opponents manage to use this report to claim that costs will increase?  They cherry-picked total expenditures at a singular, fixed point in time – ignoring the overall rate of cost growth, the impact on Medicare and America’s seniors, and the fact that millions of more Americans will be covered.

    It’s the kind of claim folks here in Washington love. It might be technically "true" but it hardly explains the truth.

    Linda Douglass is with the White House Office of Health Reform

  • Ed. Note: See previous installments from Interior Secretary Salazar, as well as EPA Administrator Jackson and Assistant Secretary of Energy Sandalow.

    Today, the U.S. Center in Copenhagen turned the spotlight on American business, new jobs and the economic opportunities for Americans and people across the globe in building a clean energy economy -- and in providing the certainty and predictability business needs to succeed by passing comprehensive energy legislation in the U.S. Congress.  Secretary Locke delivered the keynote address to a full house, which included, in addition to scores of countries watching online, a linked-in audience in Hong Kong. There were many students, NGOs like the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, foreign onlookers and press in the room. With each day, turnout and enthusiasm seems to grow. 

    Download Video: mp4 (56MB)

    Get more on the Commerce Department’s unique perspective on this issue from the Department's COP 15 page, the Secretary's Twitter account, or his blog post up now.

    Jake Levine is with the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change

  • The first deadline of President Obama’s Executive Order on Federal Sustainability (EO 13514) was recently met when EPA announced new guidance for Federal agencies to reduce stormwater runoff from Federal building projects.

    The new stormwater guidance for Federal building projects calls for innovative approaches for preserving local water systems by using porous pavement, green roofs, rainwater capture for landscape irrigation, and other strategies.  Managing stormwater on building sites – including strategies to make sure more rain is absorbed into the ground instead of channeled into municipal sewer systems – is an important way the Federal Government is leading by example. 

    Most stormwater from building sites runs off into municipal sewer systems. In cities like Washington, DC that have combined storm sewers, which are water treatment systems that treat rain water and municipal sewage the same way, big rainfalls associated with storms can create overflows that are harmful to water quality in local rivers and streams.

    Look for local examples of leadership from the Federal Agencies in your own communities – like the green roof on the EPA Laboratory Annex in Cincinnati, or USDA’s rainwater capture system at the People’s Garden on the National Mall.

    Nancy Sutley is the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality

  • Today, House Minority Leader John Boehner has an op-ed in the Washington Post.  Unfortunately, what we heard from Congressman Boehner was more of the same, status quo, business-as-usual policies that led us to this crisis.

    Just one year ago, the financial system was on the edge of collapse. The economy was in free fall.

    When the President came to office we were losing 700,000 jobs a month, last month we lost 11,000.  It's going to be a bumpy road and we have a lot more work to do, but it is clear we have taken bold steps to break the back of this recession.

    Monthly Jobs Chart 12-11-09

    We've worked to stabilize the financial system, revive lending to small businesses and families, and prevent responsible homeowners from losing their homes.  Through the Recovery Act, we’ve cut taxes for middle class families, extended and increased unemployment insurance, and created and saved more than a million jobs.

    As a result, the economy is now growing again for the first time in more than a year – and faster than at any time in two years.  Because of the irresponsible economic policies of the last few years, we have been forced to make difficult choices. What is clear is that without these actions, we would be far worse off. 

    Sometimes it seems as if some of the President’s opponents are rooting for failure on the economy. There is an element of glee in the press releases they send out every time new economic data comes out.

    We agree on the need for tax relief for American families which is why the President signed a bill into law that provided a tax cut for 95% of working families.  Alarmist Republican rhetoric about tax increases conveniently ignores the fact that 95% of their constituents have seen their taxes cut since President Obama took office.

    Leader Boehner leads off his attack with a reference  to "the president's proposals to raise taxes on small businesses."   This is odd given that the first of the three steps laid out by the President on Tuesday is explicitly lowering taxes on small businesses, with zero capital gains, extending expensing and bonus depreciation, and a tax credit to promote hiring—all proposals many Republican leaders have embraced in the past.

    There are those who claim we have to choose between paying down our deficits on the one hand, and investing in job creation and economic growth on the other. But this is a false choice. Ensuring that economic growth and job creation are strong and sustained is critical to ensuring that we are increasing revenues and decreasing spending on things like unemployment so that our deficits will start coming down.

    The President has always said there is an open door for good ideas and when Congressman Boehner and Republicans in Congress are interested in being a part of a conversation about how to move forward instead of rooting against the path to economic recovery—we look forward to having a productive conversation.

    Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director

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