Read all posts from December 2009

  • Ed.Note: Secretary Sebellius got her own vaccination soon after this was posted, read the release (complete with photo).

    This time of year, Americans are getting ready to travel and spend time with family for the holidays. It’s really important that we all take extra steps to protect ourselves and those around us from getting sick.

    There’s no question that the best protection against the flu is to get vaccinated.

    Now is an especially good window of opportunity to get the H1N1 vaccine, since supplies are growing by the day. This means that more people have access to the vaccine.

    Don’t know where to go to get vaccinated? We made it easy for you. We teamed up with Google to create an easy-to-use tool that allows you to find the nearest location to get the H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccines.

    It’s easy. Just type in your zip code, and the locator takes you to a Google map with the locations nearest you that offer the vaccines – both the nasal spray vaccine and the shot.

    We are encouraging everyone to take advantage of this window of opportunity, particularly if you are in one of the priority groups. These groups are people who are more susceptible than others, including: pregnant women; children and young adults under age 25; people who have an underlying health condition like asthma or diabetes; health care workers; and people who care for babies under six months old. Also, it’s recommended that adults from 25 to 64 years old get vaccinated, and, in many places, the vaccine is now available to anyone who wants it.

    This holiday season, we want you to stay as healthy and as safe as possible. With the flu vaccine locator, you are one click away from finding the nearest vaccination clinic.

    Take a minute to locate a vaccine near you, and then share this tool with your friends and family. Visit Flu.gov for more information.

    Kathleen Sebelius is Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services

  • SSA's Christie DicksonI first found out about the President’s SAVE Award through an email which was circulated throughout the Social Security Administration (SSA) encouraging employees to submit their ideas for participation in the President's SAVE Award. I felt that there would be so much competition and so many great ideas that would save taxpayers money and allow the Federal Government to function better, that any idea that I could think of would probably be like a needle in a haystack.

    I debated as to whether or not I should submit anything.

    On the final day (the contest submission deadline), I gathered my courage and jumped into the race.  Once I submitted my idea of allowing online scheduling of Social Security appointments, I said to myself, "It’s done and now I can continue with business-as-usual.” Very little did I know that my idea would be selected as one of the four finalists.

    Becoming a finalist among more than 38,000 candidates is one of the greatest accomplishments in both my career and my life.  I received tremendous support from my family, church, friends and co-workers.

    I knew that my family, church and friends would support me but when I received countless congratulations and other positive and motivations emails and recognition, my excitement grew overwhelmingly. Just the opportunity to go from being a regular Federal worker with simple ideas to almost making it to the White House with those ideas was amazing. I received so much positive feedback from co-workers and the general public in regards to the idea that I really do hope it’s taken into consideration to be implemented.

    I think that this contest was a great opportunity for government officials and executives to see that the frontline workers can contribute in making the workplace a better environment for the citizens and more cost effective for the taxpayers. Getting ideas for improving the agencies from the workers who actually deal with and go through the processes on a daily basis was ingenious. It's an excellent way to improve government agencies by making the best use of time and money.

    Although I may not have made it to the White House, I will always remember the experience of trying to get there and the support that everyone gave to me.  I am looking forward to other opportunities like this in the future.

    Christie Dickson works for the Social Security Administration in Birmingham, AL

  • President Bill Clinton adds his voice to the urgent need for reform:

    At last, we are close to making real health insurance reform a reality.  We face one critical, final choice, between action and inaction.  We know where the path of inaction leads to: more uninsured Americans, more families struggling to keep up with skyrocketing premiums, higher federal budget deficits, and health costs so much higher than any other country’s they will cripple us economically.  Our only responsible choice is the path of action. 

    Does this bill read exactly how I would write it? No. Does it contain everything everyone wants?  Of course not. But America can't afford to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  And this is a good bill: it increases the security of those who already have insurance and gives every American access to affordable coverage, and contains comprehensive efforts to control costs and improve quality, with more information on best practices, and comparative costs and results. The bill will shift the power away from the insurance companies and into the hands of consumers.

    Take it from someone who knows: these chances don't come around every day.  Allowing this effort to fall short now would be a colossal blunder -- both politically for our party and, far more important, for the physical, fiscal, and economic health of our country.”
     

  • Today, Vice President Biden is in Georgia to kick off over $2 billion in Recovery Act grants and loans to bring broadband to communities that currently have little or no access to the technology, all rolled out over the next 75 days.  The initial $182 million investment  announced today is for eighteen broadband projects benefiting seventeen states, and has already been matched by over $46 million in private capital.

    We in the National Economic Council are releasing a new report (pdf) called "Recovery Act Investments in Broadband: Leveraging Federal Dollars to Create Jobs and Connect America."  The report explains the Administration’s strategy for using stimulus dollars wisely to get the biggest return on investment, in terms of jobs and exciting new opportunities for Americans.

    An intriguing part of the report shows how the Recovery Act now will do for broadband what federal efforts did for the Internet in the 1980s and 1990s.  Here are three pictures of the Internet over time, from 1988 to 2007.  The thing to notice is that the federal government invested first in the backbone of the Internet.  Next, it helped fund regional networks to extend the Internet’s reach.  With the backbone and the middle piece in place, private investment took off, leading to the Internet connections of the present day.

    Internet Expansion Maps

    Source: National Science Foundation, NSF and the Birth of the Internet (http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/nsf-net).

    That’s the pattern we are following for the high-speed broadband funded in the Recovery Act.  A big focus of the new awards is on the “middle mile”—the infrastructure that connects the Internet backbone to communities across the nation. Our grants help build middle-mile infrastructure to underserved communities.  We make it easy to connect “anchor institutions” such as schools, libraries, and medical centers.  The middle mile investments, like the regional networks that filled in the Internet, set the stage for private investors to finish the job, with the so-called “last-mile” connections to homes and businesses. 

    Internet Middle Mile Chart

    Source: Merit’s History: The NSFNET Backbone Project 1987-1995 (http://www.livinginternet.com/doc/merit.edu/government.html).

    The broadband grants in the Recovery Act will total over $2 billion in the next 75 days, and over $7 billion within the next year.  There are many stories to tell about how these broadband grants will spur private investment and provide opportunities in jobs, education, health care, new businesses, and other realms.  To learn more, read our new report, and read the Vice President’s speech.

    Peter Swire is Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy 

  • Congress is on the verge of  an historic achievement  for which the American people have been waiting for decades:  The passage of real health insurance reform that will bring stability and security to Americans with insurance and provide affordable options to those who don’t.  It will  protect  individuals and families from unfair and arbitrary  insurance practices and will at last shift the power away from insurance companies and into the hands of consumers. 

    Enactment of these historic reforms will be a monumental accomplishment and will be a victory for the interests of consumers against  ferocious opposition from the insurance industry and others invested in the status quo.  And while  there are parts of reform that will take some time to get up and running, there are a great many benefits that will kick in during the very first year to help families and small businesses get control over their health and their health insurance costs.

    If you or somebody in your family has a pre-existing condition, you’ll get help in 2010: Both the Senate and House bills will make it illegal for insurance companies to drop coverage for Americans who get sick.  Insurance companies will also be barred from limiting the total benefits Americans can use over the course of a year or over their lifetimes.  Affordable insurance coverage options will also be made immediately available  through a high-risk pool for Americans who have been uninsured and  have been denied coverage because they have a pre-existing condition.   These options will serve as a bridge until the new health insurance marketplaces, or exchanges, are up and running.

    If you or your family has insurance, you'll get help in 2010: The scales will no longer be tipped against you in your relationship with your insurance company.  More of your money will start going towards your care instead of excessive  insurance company profits or TV ads.  Between 2010 and 2013, insurance companies will be required to report the proportion of premium dollars that are spent in areas other than medical care – including profits.  If a company isn’t spending enough of its premium dollars providing benefits, it will be required to issue rebate checks to its customers to make up the difference. Insurance companies will also immediately have to begin creating effective appeals processes for customers who have been denied claims ---including independent reviews---and the legislation provides grants for states to create ombudsmen to act as consumer watchdogs on health insurance coverage. 

    If you want to keep your family from getting sick in the first place, you’ll get help in 2010: All insurance plans will have to begin covering preventive services.  That means all Americans who purchase insurance on their own will receive preventive care from their doctor without paying a co-pay. 

    If you’ve got kids, you’ll get help in 2010: Insurance plans that cover dependents will also have to provide benefits to adult children up to age 26, covering young Americans at a time when they’re most likely to lack coverage.

    If you’re an early retiree with coverage from your former employer, your premiums will be reduced:  Employers and their retirees between 55 and 64 years of age will have lower premiums from new re-insurance helping to ensure the continuation of these essential benefits

    If you’re a senior, you'll get help in 2010: Major help on prescription drug costs will begin kicking in, with dramatic reductions on the costs of brand name prescription drugs for seniors.  In addition, the coverage gap, or “doughnut hole” in the Medicare Prescription Drug Program will be closed over the next few years.  

    So as we come to the end of this debate, it’s important to take stock of what American families and small businesses will get from reform:

    • Reforms that will generate the largest deficit reduction in 12 years;
    • Reforms that will rein in insurance companies and shift power to patients, doctors, nurses and American families.
    • Reforms that will actually reduce premiums and save money for American families and small businesses;
    • Reforms that will strengthen the financial health of Medicare while closing the prescription drug doughnut hole – the most significant boost to Medicare's solvency in more than a decade.
    • Reforms that will make quality affordable health care available to tens of millions of Americans – the most significant action since Medicare.

    We are on the verge of the most historic improvement in American health care in half a century. 

    Let's get it done.

    Nancy-Ann DeParle is Director of the Office of Health Reform

  • Ed. Note: White House intern Andrew Mangino shares the story below. College students, recent graduates and veterans with a passion for public service are encouraged to apply for Summer 2010 internships. Visit the Internship Program website to learn more about the program and to apply.

    Something happened last week that I will never forget: I introduced the Vice President of the United States of America.

    It’s also something I never imagined could happen, let alone only 11 days after my 23rd birthday. Not so long ago -- just a few months, in fact -- I was lying on my parents’ couch, freshly graduated from college, listening to the Jackson 5, and, well, not exactly sure what was next.

    So, as an aspiring writer with a passion for politics, I applied. And soon, I got a call. And an e-mail. And before I knew it, I was sitting in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, working for -- it’s still strange to say it -- the leader of the free world. I was eating lunch in the White House Mess. I was representing the President while mentoring local public-school students. I was drafting speeches for the Vice President. I was petting Bo.

    And last Wednesday, it all culminated as I enjoyed the privilege of a lifetime: introducing the Vice President to 115 fellow interns, some of the kindest, most passionate people I’ve ever met.

    As the hour approached, I promised myself I wouldn’t get nervous. But as the Secret Service agents behind me could see, I was trembling. Big time. When the applause (for the VP, not me) subsided, I began, describing how the Vice President held court with his interns at a recent holiday party, entrancing us with Senate stories and life lessons. And I described when then-Senator Biden made his first visit to the Senate gym 36 years ago -- and encountered three prominent statesmen “as naked as on the day they were born.”

    “But there’s something in that story as it relates to the Vice President,” I said. “And don’t worry, it transcends nudity… You see, you all don’t only know Joe Biden the statesman…you already know Joe Biden the man. Because as rare as this is in politics, those two are -- in every way for this VP -- one and the same.”

    Vice President Biden, strolling from one end of the room to the other, did not disappoint. For two hours, he answered our questions with candor. He encouraged us to channel modesty always in Washington, because “my power is merely reflective of the President’s power”—and the President’s power is merely reflective of the people’s.

    He told us that in 36 years of public service, he had never -- not once -- been as optimistic as he is today. History, he said, is at an inflection point -- and it’s incumbent on our generation to keep our country and world on course.

    I’ll never forget Wednesday afternoon -- the swarm of Secret Service as the motorcade arrived, the Vice President of the United States looking on as I introduced him to my friends, the surreal quality of it all. But speaking of inflection points… what I’ll truly cherish is this fall.

    Andrew Mangino is an intern in the Office of the Vice President

  •  

    Child lights the Hanukkah candles

    President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama watch as a child lights the Hanukkah candles at a reception in the White House, Dec. 16, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton) December 16, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)

    The President and First Lady welcomed Jewish community leaders, friends and staff to their very first Hanukkah celebration at the White House. Gathered in the Grand Foyer to light the sixth candle, the President remembered one of the earliest struggles for religious freedom and the message of Hanukkah that speaks to us all:

    It was more than 2,000 years ago, in the ancient city of Jerusalem, that a small band of believers led by Judah Maccabee rose up and defeated their foreign oppressors – liberating the city and restoring the faith of its people.

    And when it came time to rededicate the Temple, the people of Jerusalem witnessed a second miracle: a small amount of oil – enough to light the Temple for a single night – ended up burning for eight. It was a triumph of the few over the many; of right over might; of the light of freedom over the darkness of despair. And ever since that night, in every corner of the world, Jews have lit the Hanukkah candles as symbols of resilience in times of peace, and in times of persecution – in concentration camps and ghettos; war zones and unfamiliar lands. Their light inspires us to hope beyond hope; to believe that miracles are possible even in the darkest of hours.

    It is this message of Hanukkah that speaks to us no matter what faith we practice or what beliefs we cherish. Today, the same yearning for justice that drove the Maccabees so long ago inspires the protestors who march for peace and equality even when they know they will be beaten and arrested for it. It gives hope to the mother fighting to give her child a bright future even in the face of crushing poverty. And it invites all of us to rededicate ourselves to improving the lives of those around us, spreading the light of freedom and tolerance wherever oppression and prejudice exist.

    This is the lesson we remember tonight – that true acts of strength are possible, in the words of the prophet Zechariah, not by might and not by power, but by spirit alone.

    Ethan and Esther Moran, along with their mother Alison Buckholtz, lit the candles of a silver menorah on loan from the Jewish Museum in Prague, which the First Lady visited earlier this year. The museum rescued this particular menorah from destruction by the Nazis. Ethan and Esther’s father Scott is a Commander in the U.S. Navy currently stationed in Iraq.

    First Lady Michelle Obama stands with Alison Buckholtz and her children at Hanukkah Reception

    First Lady Michelle Obama stands with Alison Buckholtz and her children, as they prepare to light the Hanukkah candles at a reception in the White House, Dec. 16, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton) December 17, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)

    Curator handles Menorah

    White House curator Donna Hayashi Smith handles the 1873 silver Hanukkah menorah on loan from the Jewish Museum in Prague, Czech Republic, in the Grand Foyer of the White House, Dec. 16, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson) December 16, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

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

    The U.S. Delegation Keynote speaker in Copenhagen today was Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack.  He spoke about how clean energy investments are creating opportunities for rural economies.  While in Copenhagen, Secretary Vilsack also took the opportunity to a hold a day-long meeting at the University here, meeting with academics, scientists and other world leaders to plan ways to incorporate agriculture into the effort to combat climate change.  He also announced today a new memorandum-of-understanding between the USDA and Dairy Management Inc. for the two to work together to reduce dairy-related green house gas emissions by 25%. 

    Download Video: mp4 (21MB)

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

     

  • As we move into the final stage of the historic push for health reform, opponents of reform are testing the age old adage that if you only say something enough times you can somehow make it true.  Yesterday, we heard a new version of the old, tired refrain that the health reform bills in Congress would raise taxes on the middle class.

    So let's set the record straight:

    • First, the health insurance reform bill being considered in the Senate does not raise taxes on families making less than $250,000 – in fact it is a substantial net tax cut for American families. The bill being considered represents a substantial net tax cut for middle income families. According to the independent Joint Committee on Taxation, the bill will provide nearly $450 billion in individual income tax cuts over the next 10 years.
    • Second, the excise tax levied on insurance companies for high-premium plans, the so-called "Cadillac tax," will affect only a small portion of the very highest cost health plans – a total of 3% of premiums in 2013. The vast majority of health plans fall below the thresholds set in the Senate plan and would be completely unaffected by the provision. And those that are above the threshold would only face an excise tax on the generally small portion of the plan that exceeds the threshold. As a result, based on analyses by the Joint Committee on Taxation, only about 3% of premiums will be affected by this provision in 2013. In addition, the Senate plan provides special protections to plans held by workers in high-risk professions – like police and firefighters – as well as by those over 55.
    • Third, for the small sub-set of plans that are affected, the primary impact of this provision will be to increase workers' wages. Getting a pay raise is not what most people would call a tax increase. Economists agree by taxing the highest cost plans this provision will lead insurance companies to be more efficient and provide quality care to consumers at lower prices (see this endorsement in a letter from a group of prominent economists – including three Nobel laureates and previous members of both Democratic and Republican administrations and this analysis by CBO 2009). Even a report commissioned by the insurance industry's trade association acknowledged that: "[w]e expect employers to respond to the tax by restructuring their benefits to avoid it." [PWC, 2009].  As a result, employers will be in a position to increase workers' take home pay.
    • Finally, supporters of the status quo are supporters of continuing the hidden tax of $1,000 that the millions of Americans who get insurance through their job or buy it on their own are already paying each year to cover the costs of caring for those without insurance. Even if you believe that some of the tax on insurance companies is passed along, it would be more than outweighed by the benefits middle-class families would get from not only hundreds of billions of dollars in health care tax credits but from reducing the hidden tax they currently pay for the uninsured. Supporters of the status quo would not only deny middle-class families the tax cuts proposed in the Senate legislation, they would also continue this unfair hidden tax.

    Jason Furman is Deputy Director of the National Economic Council

  • Recently, a somewhat perplexing new line of argument has emerged about health insurance reform, with some folks suggesting the Senate bill is a "dream" for insurance companies. 

    If that's the case, though, it must be news to them. The insurance industry has been leveraging its considerable resources in a ferocious effort to defeat this bill, including producing a report the day before the Senate Finance Committee vote that was so misleading the firm behind it had to walk away from it. And that's not surprising, because this bill will finally wrest power away from the insurance industry and put it in the hands of American consumers.

    • Among the many provisions to end insurer abuses, lower premiums, and hold insurance companies accountable:
    • Insurance market reforms will prohibit abuses such as denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, charging exorbitant premiums based on gender, age, or health status, dropping coverage when people are sick, and imposing lifetime limits on benefits.
    • Consumer rights will be enhanced by requiring all insurers to provide effective appeals procedures including outside, independent review of appeals
    • New insurance exchanges will reduce premium increases by lowering administrative costs and increasing the leverage of individuals and small businesses in this insurance market.
    • Competition will also be enhanced by providing consumers comparative information on available insurance options giving them the tools to make more informed decisions and drive competition based on value and service.
    • Insurers will be held accountable for excessive overhead costs fueled by unreasonable executive compensation and profits.
    • Insurers will also be required to compete against cost-effective national plans selected by the federal Office of Personnel Management.
    • Wasteful taxpayer overpayments to insurance companies through private Medicare Advantage plans will be eliminated.
    • A new $6.7 billion annual fee will be levied on insurance companies to ensure that they pay their fair share of coverage costs.

    It’s also important to remember that, while none of us are shedding any tears for the insurance industry, the primary goal of health insurance reform isn’t to punish insurers – it’s to give every American the ability to find affordable coverage while controlling the unsustainable cost growth in our current health care system that is crushing families and businesses.  On that front, this bill is hugely successful.  This bill will bring stability and security to people who have insurance and provide affordable options to those who don’t.  It will protect against arbitrary insurance company rules and  will lower premiums for American families and businesses. And it will take a big chunk out of the national deficit.

    Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director 

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    As we head into the holiday season, the White House has been beautifully decorated by volunteers from all over the country. The White House kitchen staff has also been busy preparing food for holiday parties, and pastry chefs have been baking cookies non-stop for lucky children who come for a visit.  In the midst of all of this, we have been preparing the garden for the winter and another round of crops.

    The first three plantings of the White House Kitchen Garden were more bountiful than even we expected.  After harvesting the last of the fall planting, more than 1007 lbs of produce was taken from the garden this year!   I think the garden has been the most delicious idea the First Lady has had yet!

    While chefs in the kitchen have enjoyed cooking with the healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables immensely, we have also continued to learn a great deal about the impact of the garden on the dozens of school groups who have come to visit.  Their smart questions, insights and ideas never cease to amaze us. 

    Over the past few weeks, we have worked to prepare the soil for the planting of the winter garden.  We are able to extend the growing season by using a simple, inexpensive cover called a high tunnel or hoop house.  A hoop house simply amounts to a series of metal bars set in a row over one of the beds, and a fabric or plastic pulled tight around the bars.  As the sun warms the garden during the day, the fabric traps the heat in, keeping the plants from freezing overnight.  Although there are many kinds of plants that aren’t able to grow even in the hoop houses, we are thrilled to have so many delicious things growing at this very moment!

    We have planted spinach, lettuce, carrots, mustard greens, chard and cabbage, and we will add a few more varieties in the next couple weeks. I especially look forward to cooking with the spinach.  Winter spinach is extra sweet.  Sugar doesn’t freeze, so spinach produces extra sugars in the winter to protect itself from frost.  It tastes almost like candy.  We are going to make soups, salads and, of course, Chef Comerford’s famous cream-less creamed spinach.

    In the area of the garden that is not being planted with vegetables, we are planting a cover crop of rye.  This is a technique that farmers use to help re-balance their soil and, most importantly, prevent erosion of top soil during the harsh winter.   This is an incredibly important technique that all growers can utilize. Topsoil is one of our most valuable commodities, and we are working hard to protect it. 

    We are excited to be able to continue growing food year round here at the White House. 

    Happy holidays and happy gardening! 

    Sam Kass is an assistant chef and the Food Initiative Coordinator at the White House

  • In order to democratize data and advance the President’s agenda of an open, transparent and participatory government, the Data.gov platform was launched on May 21, 2009, with 47 datasets.  Today, we have over 118,000 datasets and have received more than 47 million hits.  Since the launch, many state, local and international governments have followed the path to democratize data through their own platforms.  From San Francisco to the United Kingdom, there is a global movement to share public sector data to unleash the creativity of citizens, drive transparency and ensure accountability. Data transparency can spur economic, scientific, and educational innovation by making it easier to build applications, conduct analysis, and perform research.

    The current version of Data.gov platform is just the beginning.  We’ve developed a Data.gov Concept of Operations and would appreciate your input.  Following are the key principles as we continue to evolve Data.gov:
     

    1. Focus on Access
      Data.gov is designed to increase access to government data as close to the authoritative source as possible. The goal is to strengthen our democratic institutions through a transparent, collaborative and participatory platform while fostering development of innovative applications (e.g. visualizations, mash-ups) and analysis by third parties. Policy analysts, researchers, application developers, non-profit organizations, entrepreneurs and the general public should have numerous resources for accessing, understanding and using the vast array of government datasets.
       
    2. Open Platform
      Data.gov will use a modular architecture with application programming interfaces (API) to facilitate shared services for agencies and enable the development of third party tools.  The architecture, APIs and services will evolve based on public and agency input.
       
    3. Disaggregation of Data
      Data should be disaggregated from agency reports, tools or visualizations to enable direct access to the underlying data.
       
    4. Grow and Improve Through User Feedback
      Feedback should be used to identify high-value datasets, help set priorities for integration of new and existing datasets and improve the usability of data and applications.
       
    5. Program Responsibility
      Agency program executives and data stewards are responsible for ensuring information quality, providing context and meaning for data, protecting privacy and assuring information security.
       
    6. Rapid Integration
      Agencies should rapidly integrate current and new data into Data.gov with sufficient documentation to allow the public to determine fitness for use in the targeted context.
       
    7. Embrace, Scale and Drive Best Practices
      Data.gov will implement, enhance and propagate best practices for data and information management, sharing and dissemination across agencies, with our state, local and tribal partners as well as internationally.

    The Administration is making available high-value data that helps promote national priorities and improve the everyday lives of Americans through Data.gov.  When the Department of Agriculture makes nutrition information available, families can make smarter eating choices.  When the Department of Education makes key information available about colleges and universities, students can make better-informed decisions about the quality and cost of their education.  When the Department of Labor makes safety information available, employers can better protect workers.

    We’ve posted the Concept of Operations and invite you to join the dialogue on Data.gov.  Through initiatives like Data.gov, we are laying a new foundation that changes the default setting of government from closed, opaque and secretive to open, transparent and participatory.

    Vivek Kundra is the Federal Chief Information Officer

     

  • Proving that they will leave no stone unturned in their efforts to undermine health reform, some blogs opposing reform are now trafficking an absurd rumor that Nebraska's Offutt Air Force Base is being threatened over Senator Ben Nelson's vote on the Senate reform bill.

    To be perfectly clear: these rumors are completely baseless and false.

    Thanks for your time.

    Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director

     

  • Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (277MB) | mp3 (13MB)

    Yesterday the Vice President sent a memo (pdf) to the President demonstrating how the new foundation for a clean energy economy has been laid this year.  The memo is thorough and solid - take a look to get a shapshot of how the future will unfold as a result of the investments in the Recovery Act and the President's budget.

    Today the President honed in on one element of that emerging clean energy job market, an element he announced a renewed focus upon during last week's speech at Brookings – retrofitting homes.  Speaking at a Home Depot, he described the focus as one of several "strategic surgical steps," explaining why this area of the economy is so well-fitted for an immediate boost that will help the economy as a whole turn around:

    In our nation's buildings -- our homes and our office consume almost 40 percent of the energy we use and contribute almost 40 percent of the carbon pollution that we produce and everybody is talking about right now in Copenhagen.  Homes built in the first half of the last century can use about 50 percent more energy than homes that are built today.  And because most of our homes and office aren't energy-efficient, much of that energy just goes to waste, while costing our families and businesses money they can't afford to throw away.

    The simple act of retrofitting these buildings to make them more energy-efficient -- installing new windows and doors, insulation, roofing, sealing leaks, modernizing heating and cooling equipment -- is one of the fastest, easiest and cheapest things we can do to put Americans back to work while saving families money and reducing harmful emissions.

    As a result of a variety of investments made under the Recovery Act, including state and local energy grants, we're on pace to upgrade the homes of half a million Americans by this time next year -- half a million Americans:  boosting the economy, saving money and energy, creating clean energy jobs that can't be outsourced.  But this is an area that has huge potential to grow.  That's why I'm calling on Congress to provide new temporary incentives for Americans to make energy-efficiency retrofit investments in their homes.  And we want them to do it soon.

    I know the idea may not be very glamorous -- although I get really excited about it.  We were at the roundtable and somebody said insulation is not sexy.  I disagree.  (Laughter.)  Frank, don't you think installation is sexy stuff?  (Applause.)  Here's what’s sexy about it:  saving money.  Think about it this way:  If you haven't upgraded your home yet, it's not just heat or cool air that's escaping -- it's energy and money that you are wasting.  If you saw $20 bills just sort of floating through the window up into the atmosphere, you'd try to figure out how you were going to keep that.  But that's exactly what's happening because of the lack of efficiency in our buildings.

    So what we want to do is create incentives that stimulate consumer spending, because folks buy materials from home improvement stores like this one, which then buys them from manufacturers.  It spurs hiring because local contractors and construction workers do the installation.  It saves consumers money -- perhaps hundreds of dollars off their utility bills each year -- and it reduces our energy consumption in the process.

    Get more on who the President spoke with before his remarks -- people representing every link in the chain for this sector -- in the White House background release.

    Meeting on Retrofitting at Home Depot

    President Barack Obama discusses the economic impact of energy saving home retrofits with labor, manufacturing, and small business leaders at a Home Depot in Alexandria, Va. December 15, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

  • For decades, Americans have talked about fixing our broken health care system.  Presidents from Truman to Nixon to Clinton have attempted and come up short.   Now, though, we’re far closer than ever before to signing into law real health insurance reform – reform that will give insured Americans unprecedented stability and security, make quality, affordable insurance available to every American,  and lower costs for American families, businesses, and the country as a whole.

    And today the health insurance reform effort gained even more critical momentum as the AARP announced that it is supporting the Senate reform legislation. 

    This announcement is truly a big deal.  For decades, the AARP has been on the front lines of the fight to cut health care costs and improve coverage for America’s seniors.  They're supporting the passage of this bill because they know it will do just that.  It will add years to the life of Medicare, reduce out of pocket costs – including for preventive care and prescription drugs – and ensure higher quality care for our seniors.

    "This bill will strengthen Medicare by eliminating cost barriers to preventive care, reform Medicare's payment and delivery system to promote care coordination, and reduce hospital infections and preventable readmissions," AARP CEO A. Barry Rand wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.  “Moreover, through critical insurance market reforms and the establishment of exchanges, this bill will give the uninsured and small businesses access to quality affordable plans. The legislation also includes important provisions to strengthen home and community-based care and to assist individuals in saving to meet future long-term care needs.”

    But the AARP’s support doesn’t just say a lot about what the bill will do.  It says a lot about what the bill won’t do.  It reaffirms that, for all the scary myths being spread by defenders of the status quo, nothing in reform will cut the Medicare benefits that have been guaranteed to America’s seniors.

    It's safe to say that the AARP would not be supporting reform if it wasn’t a good deal for seniors.

    Here's the money quote:  "With your commitment to closing the doughnut hole in conference, consistent with the President's pledge, and the many positive features referenced above, AARP is pleased to support your efforts to obtain cloture, and urges timely passage of this legislation by the Senate."

    So next time you hear the usual scary stories, it’s worth keeping this announcement in mind.

  • Ed. Note: Thanks to Tech. Sgt. Nathan Gallahan for the post below, send your own video message to the troops via the DOD website.

    I started this year's holiday season off right - waking up Thanksgiving morning in a tin building with 200 Army soldiers at a combat outpost in eastern Afghanistan.

    I'm a U.S. Air Force Airman, journalist and photographer deployed to the ISAF Joint Command in Kabul. My two-week mission was to document and tell the story of the Afghan National Security Forces. I visited many locations including battalion headquarters and combat outposts; I witnessed everything I expected... and then some.

    I went out anticipating combat patrols and handing out supplies, check.
    I went out anticipating the Afghan's taking greater control of their country, check.
    I went out anticipating the Afghan's tracking down bad guys, check.

    Then there were the holiday cards and smiles. I didn't anticipate that.

    At each location I visited, there were all these cards and banners reassuring the soldiers America loved them, supported them and prayed for their safe return. I saw soldier upon soldier holding these cards up and showing their friends what amusing little anecdote was scribbled within. The only possessions these soldiers had were what they could carry on their back and holiday cards from school children from across our beautiful nation.

    Unfortunately, I’m no stranger to sacrifice. After 12 years, and five deployments, in the Air Force, I’ve only spent four Christmas’ with family. I’ve become hardened. But this letter isn’t about me, this is about the guys in the field I took photos of, and who would never admit what I’m about to tell you, because they’re disciplined, strong and sacrifice all they know for causes so big, the effects will be felt across generations.

    These letters, cards, candies, cookies … especially cookies … reach these guys and bring smiles to their faces when happiness in warzones is a rare commodity.

    But these days, sending care packages via mail to such remote sites is really hard, especially since you need to know someone here before you can send anything (for security reasons, sending them to units or “any soldier” is no longer allowed).  The Department of Defense has a site though, that allows you to send video messages to service members.  It’s a great way to show support over the holidays and is a lot faster than mail, which can take a month or more, sometimes, to arrive here.

    Here's one example:

    Viewing this video requires Adobe Flash Player 8 or higher. Download the free player.

     

    I went to the site skeptically and opened up the videos and discovered they delivered something a card, some candy or a cookie never could.  They delivered an experience, a portal, a visual of happy, smiling, free people taking the time to say Happy Holidays and thank you. These are the people we’re here for, and in one video I saw snow and a full-sized Christmas tree decorated to the nines! It was a video of the holiday season. When you’re out here, as much as everyone says Happy Holidays, it’s still a cold, sandy, treeless place. Seeing all of those videos, and the happy people saying thanks brought a tear to my eye. To those who submitted the videos, thank you for the moment.  For a little while, I felt the warmth of the holiday season. 

    I found out the videos are not limited to the site either.  The best ones are shown on the Pentagon Channel, which is broadcast all around Afghanistan and Iraq (and also to my wife back in England - we’ve been stationed there since 2007).

    There is also a small link at the bottom of the page to a form that helps Americans get in touch with veterans organizations in their area that help them show support.

    Obviously, the internet in a warzone can be as difficult to receive as a package of grandma’s cookies.  But for those Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen I met out there, every little bit of support does make an impact, regardless of whether it’s during the holidays or not. 

    From all of the ground pounders here in Afghanistan (and even us Airmen), have a great holiday season and please hug your families a little tighter, smile at your neighbor a little wider and share the joy and happiness of the holiday season with everyone you see.  Not all of the places in this world share the same peace and happiness that we do back home… yet. 

    Troops Sleeping in Camp Clark, Afghanistan

    Soldiers from the U.S. Army's 1-40 Cavalry Squadron sleep after devouring Thanksgiving chow at Camp Clark, Afghanistan Nov. 26. The soldiers have been patrolling daily and helping train the Afghan National Army since their arrival to the camp approximately one month ago. (ISAF Joint Command photo by Tech. Sgt. Nathan Gallahan)

    Tech. Sgt. Nathan Gallahan is a member of the ISAF Joint Command, Afghanistan

  • Ten months ago,  we launched the first internship application of this Administration. Since then, our program has grown to include a mentor and tutor program with nine partner DC high schools, a book drive as part of Summer of Service, a professional development speaking series, the launch of the DC Scholar program -- the first internship program for DC high school students-- and a complete online and paper free application process.

    Today we launch the application for the Summer 2010 White House Internship Program application. We are excited about the past ten months and look forward to the next ten months and the Summer 2010 class applicants! Good luck.

    To learn more about the Internship program, the application process, and who is eligible to apply for Internships, visit the White House Internship Program website.

    Rachel Haltom-Irwin is the Director of the White House Internship Program

  • Ed. Note: See previous installments from Interior Secretary SalazarEPA Administrator Jackson and Assistant Secretary of Energy Sandalow, and Secretary of Commerce Locke

    Today, Secretary of Energy Chu took the podium at the U.S. Center in Copenhagen.  He delivered his remarks to an overflow crowd and even took questions by satellite from feeds in Shanghai and Dublin.  Secretary Chu’s presentation topic was "Leading in Energy Efficiency and Renewables," and he also announced the launch of a new initiative to promote clean energy technologies in developing countries under the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (Click here for a Fact Sheet).  The hard work on negotiations continued throughout the weekend, and as we enter the second week, the Bella Center is now officially packed.

    Download Video: mp4 (19MB)

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

  • The President has stated on many occasions that one of his proudest accomplishments has been assembling a Cabinet of such high caliber.  As the Cabinet Secretary in the White House, I have the privilege of interacting with this amazing group every day, and can attest first-hand that his pride is more than merited.  Every day, the President calls on the Cabinet to provide him with advice on pressing national and international issues.  He also values their work in running the federal departments and agencies, ensuring that the government always works on behalf of the American people. 

    Since the country's founding, Presidents have been meeting behind closed doors with their Cabinets.  That's to be expected, since it's important for the President to be able to speak candidly with his most trusted advisors.  Indeed, a Cabinet meeting is so critical to the functioning of our government that it's one of the rare occasions that the entire Cabinet is allowed by Secret Service to be in the same place at the same time.  However, in keeping with President Obama's commitment to openness and transparency, we wanted to give the public a rare, behind-the-scenes look at how a Cabinet meeting comes together: 

    Download Video: mp4 (114MB)

    Chris Lu is Cabinet Secretary for the White House

  • Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (106MB) | mp3 (8MB)

    With America's economy having been pulled back from the brink of total collapse, is no small part due to actions like the Recovery Act that has saved and created over a million jobs, and TARP which was imperative to stabilizing a financial system is danger of dragging everybody down with it, the President today made clear to a dozen bank CEOs that they must do their part :

    So my main message in today's meeting was very simple:  that America's banks received extraordinary assistance from American taxpayers to rebuild their industry -- and now that they're back on their feet, we expect an extraordinary commitment from them to help rebuild our economy.

    That starts with finding ways to help creditworthy small and medium-size businesses get the loans that they need to open their doors, grow their operations, and create new jobs.  This is something I hear about from business owners and entrepreneurs across America -- that despite their best efforts, they're unable to get loans.  At the same time, I've been hearing from bankers that they're willing to lend, but face a shortage of creditworthy individuals and businesses.

    December Banker Meeting

    President Barack Obama speaks during a meeting with members of the financial industry to discuss economic recovery, small business lending, improving lending practices for homeowners and the Administration's plans for financial reform, during a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Dec. 14, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) December 14, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    The President also reminded bank executives and lobbyists that the Administration will do everything possible to protect consumers and small business owners to get the economy back on its feet:

    And I made very clear that I have no intention of letting their lobbyists thwart reforms necessary to protect the American people.  If they wish to fight common-sense consumer protections, that's a fight I'm more than willing to have.

    The way I see it, having recovered with the help of the American government and the American taxpayers, our banks now have a greater obligation to the goal of a wider recovery, a more stable system, and more broadly shared prosperity.

    So I urged them to work with us in Congress to finish the job of reforming our financial system to bring transparency and accountability to the financial markets; to ensure that the failure of one bank or financial institution won't spread throughout the entire system, and to help protect consumers from misleading and dishonest practices with products like credit and debit cards, with mortgages and auto and payday loans.

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