Read all posts from March 2010

  • The President discusses his blueprint for an updated Elementary and Secondary Education Act to overhaul No Child Left Behind, the latest step from his Administration to encourage change and success in America’s schools at the local level.

    Update: Learn more from the Department of Education.

    • VP Israel Netanyahu
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    Yesterday, Vice President Biden spoke at Tel Aviv University in Israel about the partnership between the United States and Israel:

    Israel’s unique relationship with the United States means that you need not bear that heavy burden alone.  Our nations’ unbreakable bond borne of common values, interwoven cultures, and mutual interests has spanned the entirety of Israel’s history.  And it’s -- it’s impervious to any shifts in either country and either country’s partisan politics.  No matter what challenges we face, this bond will endure.  As a result, generations of Israelis and Americans and American-Israelis have kept a foot in each country, enriching both our nations and peoples.  I met with some of your leading high-tech leaders earlier, prior to coming to the stage.  And they have a foot in both countries, many of them.

    While these close relationships span the realm of commerce and education, medicine and technology, culture and the arts, at its core is an ironclad commitment to security -- Israel and my own country’s.  Every day, Israel faces bravely threats no country should have to endure.  No parent should their child to schools equipped with air raid sirens in the year 2010.  No government should be expected to turn a blind eye while an enemy calls for its destruction.

    I am here to remind you, though I hope you will never forget, that America stands with you shoulder-to-shoulder in facing these threats.  President Obama and I represent an unbroken chain of American leaders who have understood this critical, strategic relationship.  As the President said recently, “I will never waver from ensuring Israel’s security and helping them secure themselves in what is a very hostile region."

    To watch the full speech, click here.

    Earlier this week, the Vice President also spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at Ramallah and with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jerusalem.  

  • The President met with his national security team on Afghanistan and Pakistan this morning:

    President Barack Obama meets with his national security team on Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Situation Room of the White House. From left, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew, United States Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and President Obama March 12, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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  • With only three days left until the application deadline for the President’s High School Commencement Challenge, attention on the competition is heating up. 

    Earlier this week, Domestic Policy Director Melody Barnes was interviewed on BET’s 106 and Park to encourage the nation’s public high school students to tell the President why their school is the best in the country at preparing students for college and career choices. 

    Melody Barnes on BET's 106 and Park

    Help spread the word to students and schools in your community that you think deserve the commencement speaker of a lifetime – and tell them to get their applications in before the deadline on midnight on Monday, March 15th.

  • The rapid growth in health care spending in the U.S. in recent years has placed an increasingly heavy financial burden on individuals and families, with a steadily growing share of workers' total compensation going to health care costs. Because firms choose to compensate their workers with either wages or with benefits such as employer-sponsored health insurance (ESI), increasing health care costs tend to “crowd out” increases in wages. Therefore, recent rapid increases in employer-sponsored health insurance premiums have resulted in much lower wage growth for workers.

    Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' "Employer Costs for Employee Compensation" (ECEC) survey can shed light on this issue. According to the ECEC data, workers' inflation-adjusted average total compensation per hour increased by 1.3 percent per year from 2000 to 2009 (from $26.23 per hour to $29.39 per hour in 2009 dollars)1  However, the annual growth rate of average wages and salaries during this period was much lower. More specifically, if one subtracts out the employee share of health insurance premiums2, workers' average hourly wage and salary compensation increased by just 0.7 percent per year from 2000 to 2009. As shown in the following figure, the corresponding growth rate in ESI premiums (including both the employer and employee share) was much higher at 5.1 percent per year.

    Annual Growth in Components of Worker Compensation

    March 12, 2010.

    As a result of these very different growth rates, the fraction of workers' total compensation going to employer-sponsored health insurance premiums increased from 7.4 percent in 2000 to 10.3 percent in 2009. If the growth rates in both workers' average total compensation and in employer-sponsored health insurance premiums remain at their recent rates, this share will increase to 15.0 percent by 2019 and will continue to increase thereafter. Thus in the absence of reform that slows the growth rate of costs, a steadily increasing share of workers' total compensation will be eaten up by health insurance premiums.

    The increase from 2000 to 2009 in the average share of workers' total compensation going to ESI premiums is even more striking when one considers that a steadily declining share of workers and their dependents are covered by ESI. More specifically, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the share of non-elderly adults and children covered by ESI fell from 68 percent in 2000 to 62 percent by 2008. This decline was to a large extent driven by a decline in the fraction of firms offering ESI to their workers, which fell from 69 percent in 2000 to 60 percent in 2009.3 Thus if one focused only on those firms that offered ESI during this period, the trends outlined above would be even more striking.

    These trends, along with recent empirical research4 on this issue, make clear that increasing health care costs are reducing the wage growth of American workers below what it otherwise would be. The President's Proposal for health insurance reform would genuinely slow this growth in costs, allowing workers to enjoy more of the benefits of their productivity increases in the form of higher take-home wages.

    Christina Romer is Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers
    Mark Duggan is a Senior Economist at the Council of Economic Advisers who focuses on Health

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    • 41 -- that’s the number of leading economists -- including three Nobel Prize winners -- who sent a letter to President Obama and Congress yesterday urging the swift passage of comprehensive health insurance reform to curb skyrocketing health care costs. [Source]
    • 41 --  is also the percentage of adults under the age of 65 who accumulated medical debt, had difficulty paying medical bills, or struggled with both during a recent one year period. [Source]

    Laura Klitzka of Wisconsin is no stranger to the burden of crippling health care costs.  In September, we had a chance to visit with her at her home in Green Bay.  Here’s her story:

    Download Video: mp4 (44MB)

    With comprehensive health insurance reform, we can finally control rising health care costs and bring relief to Laura and her family and the many other American families struggling to keep up with their bills.  According to these leading economists, “the health care reforms passed by the House and Senate – with recent modifications proposed by President Obama – include serious measures that will slow the growth of health care spending.”  If reform fails, they add, “the chances of reducing growth of health care spending in the future will be greatly reduced.”

    Today’s number, 41, is the latest in ‘Health Reform by the Numbers,’ our online campaign to raise awareness about why the time is now for health insurance reform.  You can follow the campaign on and social networks like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn.

    If you’d like to help spread the word, share this blog post with your family, friends and online networks using the ‘Share/Bookmark’ feature below.

    Previous Numbers:


  • Yesterday USDA and First Lady Michelle Obama announced the Apps for Healthy Kids competition – part of Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign to raise a healthier generation of kids. The contest challenges developers to create innovative, fun and engaging tools and games that encourage children to make more nutritious food choices and be more physically active.

    To get the ball rolling, The White House and GOOD asked “What kind of healthy kid app would you like to see developed?” on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Here are some of our favorite responses:

    From our Facebook fans:

    Facebook user John Allan

    John Allan: A pedometer app for the iPhone that yells at you to get off the couch if you don't get enough steps in per day?

    Facebook user Lindsay Hattaway

    Lindsay Hattaway: An app that let's kids track the type of activity they participated in and the time spent on it each day. Make it a race to be on top against other friends who have the app.

    Facebook user Robbin Burnett Webb

    Robbin Burnett Webb: An app such as the "video game" where you are able to cook your own food, using your own ingredients. Kids need to learn how to cook with healthy, fresh ingredients. A lot of parents can't teach them how, because they don't know themselves. Get the kids interested in the kitchen! (from good)

    From our fellow Twitterers:

    Twitter user ieatreal

    ieatreal: GPS kid-mapping of "wild zones" in their "playborhood" @GOOD Q: What Healthy Kid App wld u like developed? cc @WhiteHouse @ChildrenNature

    Twitter user freshnewengland

    freshnewengland: @whitehouse re: food app - a visual that shows healthy vs. unhealthy portion sizes, links to farms & farmers markets by zipcode; bike maps

    And from our LinkedIn group:

    Twitter Jim Taylor

    Jim Taylor: As a parent of 3 young children, I would love to see an APP that would calculate various nutritional values simply by scanning the bar codes of the product. Smart phones read bar codes, and by attaching the FDA Nutritional information, a family could scan in all the items they consumed in 1 Hour, or 1 Day, or 1 Week. Suggestions could be given to the family for things like alternative or healthier substitutions, how much exercise they need to do to be fit on the registered diet, links to more information relating to the topic, etc. You could also have things like allergies be quickly ascertained.

    Learn more about the challenge at and check out a recent blog post by Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack.

    Stay connected to the White House on facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for upcoming questions.

  • Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (497MB) | mp3 (23MB)

    In his State of the Union address, President Obama spoke about doubling America’s exports over the next few years. Today, he discussed the first steps to meet that goal at the Export-Import Bank’s Annual Conference.

    While addressing the importance of America being able to compete in the global marketplace, the President explained that every $1 billion increase in exports would support more than 6,000 jobs. To promote American exports, he announced that the administration is launching the National Export Initiative, an effort to utilize the resources of the government in support for businesses that sell goods and services abroad.  

    The National Export Initiative will increase access to trade financing for businesses that want to export goods while also increasing the amount of trade-financing export-import offers to support small and medium-sized businesses. The President explained that the government hasn’t done enough to promote businesses abroad in the past, and under the National Export Initiative, the U.S. will advocate for American companies around the world. 

    This is an effort I will personally lead as President.  Next week, I’ll take my second trip to the Asia Pacific – a region that will be fundamental to America’s ability to create jobs and to thrive in the 21st century.  We can’t be on the sidelines -– we have to lead, and our engagement has to extend to governments and businesses and peoples across the Pacific.  So while I’m there, I’ll visit Indonesia and Australia, two vibrant economies and democracies that will be critical partners for the United States.  And in both countries, I’ll highlight the role that American businesses play there, and underscore how strong economic partnerships can create jobs on both sides of the Pacific while advancing both regional and global prosperity.  Going forward, I will be a strong and steady advocate for our workers and our companies abroad.

    The initiative will begin coordinated efforts to promote new markets and opportunities for American exporters, and ensure that the companies have free and fair access to those markets.

    The President also announced that the administration is working on a proposal to reform the Export Control System for high-tech industries in order to strengthen national security. The steps to reform the system include creating a more efficient process for companies to get their products to the market, and removing unnecessary obstacles to export to companies with dual-national and third-country-national employees.

    He explained that these efforts will help to double exports, open new markets, and level the playing field for American businesses and American workers.

    In times like these, questions have always arisen about whether or not America’s best days are behind us.  That’s standard fare.  It happens every so often.  There have always been naysayers and skeptics.  There were always those who’ve waxed fatalistic, fearing that we lacked the capacity to adapt, to succeed – at times even to survive – in a changing world.

    But what makes America great, what continues to make America the envy of our competitors, what makes this a place where people come not just to invest but to start lives and businesses and families, is something that has been inexorable and enduring, especially in times of great challenge and great change.  It’s that spirit of adventurousness and entrepreneurship that has for generations turned wild-eyed tinkerers into world-changing entrepreneurs; that led us westward and skyward; that led to roads and railways cutting through wilderness, and ships and planes and fiber optic lines carrying American goods and services around the world.  It’s the spirit that has advanced America’s leadership in the world and held aloft the American Dream for generations.


    Boosting Export Efforts 03.11

    President Barack Obama addresses the Export-Import Bank’s annual conference at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., March 11, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

  • Sometimes it's good to look up close at how a single Recovery Act project is changing a community for the better and putting people to work. Other times it's instructuve to take a few steps back and look at the big picture.  As an example of the latter, the web team at the Federal Highway Administration created an online map of the U.S. that shows over 12,000 Recovery Act road projects. Each of the dots represented on the map represents a project. The full, interactive version on the map allows you to click the dots in order to learn more about these projects.

    Recovery Act Map

    March 11, 2010.

    Secretary Ray LaHood’s Blog talks more about the Recovery Act map:

    More important than the number of dots is that every dot in every state represents jobs. And whether we're keeping someone from unemployment or hiring someone back, these Recovery Act projects are creating jobs. Tens of thousands of jobs.

    Those dots also add up to a lot of safer, smoother miles for you, your loved ones, and the commercial truck drivers who transport the goods we use from place to place.

    In October 2009, President Obama spoke about the benefits that the construction industry was seeing as a result of the Recovery Act, including thousands of highway projects which also helped to create private sector jobs.

    What makes these kinds of projects so important isn't just that we're creating so many jobs. It's that we're putting Americans to work doing the work that America needs done. We're rebuilding our crumbling roads, our bridges, our waterways. We've already approved nearly a thousand transportation projects to upgrade airports, railroads, mass transit systems, and shipyards. We're strengthening our nation's infrastructure in ways that will leave lasting benefits to our communities, making them stronger, making them safer, and making them better places to live.

    Visit or to learn more about the Recovery Act and projects in different states.

  • In August 2009, I performed at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, DC in celebration of Afghan Independence Day.  At that event, I met Mr. Tim Nusraty, an Afghan-American who now works at the National Security Council at the White House.  Many months later, Mr. Nusraty recommended me to perform at the White House on March 8, 2010 for International Women’s Day.  When I learned that I was selected to perform, it was the second happiest day of my life.  The first was the day I met President Barack Obama and his beautiful wife First Lady Michelle Obama.  I have to say that meeting the President, the First Lady, and performing at the White House was surreal.  I never thought in a million years that this dream would come true.

    As an Afghan girl born in Kabul, Afghanistan and raised in Vancouver, Canada, I have made it my duty to fight for women’s rights and to promote education in Afghanistan.  I decided that more than anything else, music would be the best way to do this.  It was a long-term goal, and it involved a lot of time, dedication, and hard work, not to mention the many obstacles I would have to face to get there.  I had never sung professionally in my life, and decided to start from scratch at the BC Conservatory of Music.  Today, my lyrics are heard by millions of people throughout Afghanistan and the region.

    The song that I sang at the White House on March 8th was composed by my father and me to remember the young Afghan girls who were doused with acid in Kandahar City last year for going to school.  The lyrics to the song are very powerful.  Below is the translation to the lyrics of the Afghan song:

    Afghan Girl

    I'm a girl, I am an Afghan girl
    I'm the daughter of the land of braves
    Don't break my wings, let me fly
    Don't break my crown, let me think
    I want to be as free as a gazelle
    I love my homeland just as Malali did
    Sing my songs just like a nightingale in the gardens
    Express myself the same as Zainab, Nazo, and Mehri in poetry
    Don't break my wings, let me fly
    Don't break my crown, let me think
    I've a smile on my face like a flower
    And live in open green fields
    My heart is filled with love for my homeland
    I'll sing songs and poems for my land

    Words can’t describe what I felt when I was standing in the East Room performing at the White House. I was so grateful.  I now believe that dreams can come true and goals can be reached.  My mother was with me during the performance and was more than lucky to sit next to the First Lady.  Halfway through my performance I noticed Mrs. Obama holding my mother’s hand and I was so happy I almost forgot my lyrics.  The First Lady is such an inspiration to women around the world, and I am thankful we have such an amazing role model.

    Later that day after my performance, I was approached by Afghan media, and they all told me in great excitement that I had made history in Afghanistan and that never in the history of Afghanistan had there been a performance at the White House by an Afghan artist.  Even the Afghan journalists who interviewed me became very emotional.  I didn’t realize the impact my performance at the White House would have on my Afghan people.  Recently I was offered to host my own show on 1TV in Kabul, Afghanistan.  This show focuses on family matters, women’s issues, and the treatment of children. I jumped at the opportunity and moved back to Kabul.  1TV is the platform for me to spread awareness for the women of Afghanistan.

    Thank you President Obama and Madame First Lady for this amazing opportunity. I would also like to thank Afghan Ambassador Jawad, Ms. Columbia Barrosse, and Mr. Nusraty.

    Mozhdah Jamalzadah is an Afghan singer, entertainer and model from Kabul, Afghanistan


  • This week, the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships presented its final report of recommendations to senior Administration officials at a day-long briefing at the White House.

    This first-of-its-kind White House advisory group made up of diverse religious and community non-profit leaders was appointed by the President last spring to develop recommendations on how the government can better partner with faith and neighborhood based organizations. The Council represented leaders from across religious, political and ideological lines, who came together in a spirit of civility and respect to address some of the most pressing issues facing government and nonprofits. They deliberated over months of proceedings and dozens of conference calls and developed more than 60 consensus recommendations.

    The Council’s recommendations included:

    • Providing greater clarity on guidelines for how religious charities receive and utilize government funds to provide social services;
    • Encouraging government to work with faith and community-based groups to streamline access to benefits for the unemployed and the most vulnerable;
    • Promoting strategic partnerships between Fortune 500 companies, community organizations, domestic violence groups, veterans and those in the Fatherhood field to promote responsible father engagement in the lives of children; and
    • Bringing the power of 370,000 houses of worship across the country to the fight of climate change by greening buildings and promoting environmental stewardship in their congregations.

    The Council presented these recommendations to a powerhouse line up of Administration officials, including Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Kathleen Sebelius, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Melody Barnes, Director of the Domestic Policy Council, Denis McDonough, Chief of Staff of the National Security Staff and Dr. Raj Shah, Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.  Council members then had a warm greeting with President Obama to receive his thanks and gratitude for their work.

    We note with pride the respect and civility Council and Taskforce members have shown one another throughout this process. The White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will be working with Administration officials to assess the recommendations, and we encourage you to review the entire Council report (pdf).

    Mara Vanderslice is the Deputy Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the Coordinator of the President’s Advisory Council

  • In recent weeks, you’ve probably heard a lot about WellPoint, the big insurance company that reported earning $2.7 billion in one quarter, and then promptly raised rates on some customers in California by up to 39 percent. Those aren’t the only big increases WellPoint has attempted to implement. In 2009, the company sought a 24 percent increase for its customers in Connecticut, and it’s asked to raise rates by 23 percent in Maine this year.

    This pattern appears to be working for WellPoint. Recently, a major Wall Street analysis found that WellPoint would be a “primary beneficiary” if reform fails.

    So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that WellPoint officials are doing everything they can to stop reform. WellPoint is a part of the coalition that has financed millions of dollars television ads against reform. And they are continuing to spread misinformation about what will happen when we make comprehensive reform a reality.

    The latest attack came from WellPoint’s CFO, who addressed a group of investors and wrongly claimed that reform would increase costs and drive up premiums. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

    What WellPoint may not want you to know is that reform will shift power from insurance companies and into the hands of consumers. It will lower your premiums, not increase them, according to the nonpartisan congressional budget office. The CBO has examined reform and determined that customers who buy their health insurance on the individual market would pay 14 to 20 percent less for the same levels of coverage that they received before. If you get insurance through your job, CBO found that your premiums would likely decrease. In fact, the Business Roundtable recently issued a study that found that reform could reduce costs by as much as $3,000 per employee.

    Reform will also create a new marketplace where Americans can purchase affordable, quality health benefits. And Americans buying in the new marketplaces will be eligible for tax credits that can reduce their premiums by up to 60 percent.

    The criticism from WellPoint also ignores the many provisions in reform that will bring down the cost of health care. The health policy experts and economists who have looked at this bill have said we are doing everything possible to reduce health care costs.  Some of the steps we’re taking include:

    • Pilot programs for bundling payments and paying for episodes of care rather than each individual service.
    • Creating accountable care organizations where providers co-ordinate your care;
    • Streamlining administrative costs by reducing paperwork burden and standardizing forms.
    • Bringing more people into the insurance pool and reducing the “hidden tax” that insured individuals pay to cover the cost of caring for the uninsured.

    These are just a few of the provisions in reform that will bring premiums down for consumers. And we know what will happen if these provisions and health reform are not enacted. Premiums will rise, companies like WellPoint will thrive and families will suffer. Health insurance reform will lower your costs and give you more control over your health care:  that is why the insurance companies are spending millions of dollars trying to stop it.

    Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director 

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    Losing insurance – it can happen to anyone.  We’ve all heard stories – maybe you know someone who’s recently lost their insurance, maybe that someone is you.  President Obama has heard those stories too:

    There's the father I met in Colorado whose child was diagnosed with severe hemophilia the day after he was born.  Now, they had insurance, but there was a cap on their coverage.  So once the child's medical bills began to pile up, the father was left to frantically search for another option, or face tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills.... Small business people -- I got a letter just this week from a small businessman.  He said, "I don't know what to do.  I've always provided health insurance for my families, but here, the attached bill, shows that the premiums have gone up 48 percent in the last year, and I think that I'm probably going to have to stop providing health insurance for my employees.  I don't want to, but I don't have a choice."

    These stories are wrong.  They are heartbreaking.  Nobody should be treated that way in the United States of America…

    You can learn more about the family from Colorado in this video:

    Download Video: mp4 (66MB)

    It’s time to reform our broken health care system so that American families and businesses can get the stability and security they deserve.

    Today’s number – 625 – is the third in our ‘Health Reform by the Numbers’ series, an online campaign to raise awareness about how we just can’t wait any longer for health insurance reform.  You can follow the campaign on and social networks like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn.

    To help spread the word, share this blog post with your family, friends and online networks using the ‘Share/Bookmark’ feature below.

    Previous Numbers:


  • I just returned from a productive trip to the West Coast, where I met with technology innovators from the private sector and state and local governments to hear their ideas about how the Federal Government can leverage the power of technology to deliver better results for the American people. As I’ve said before, the Federal Government does not have a monopoly on the best ideas, and in order to truly change business as usual here in Washington --  we’ve got to look beyond the Beltway.

    Vivek Kundra and Mayor Gavin NewsomThe Obama Administration is committed to making the Federal Government work better for the American people.  Closing the technology gap between the private and public sectors is essential to delivering the best results possible.  That is why I returned to the West Coast to continue to meet with leaders who have taken innovative steps and implemented bold strategies to drive progress and productivity.

    The power of raw data to provide consumers with relevant information and inform their decisions is already being realized. For example, as I was heading to the airport, I used “” to check if my flight was on time and to see what the wait in line would be. This innovative website was created by a group of independent developers using

    My first stop was San Francisco, where I joined Mayor Gavin Newsom and city CIO Chris Vein for the launch of the nationwide Open311 API (Application Programming Interface) initiative, which will open up access to local government services across the country. Open311 will enable people to track the status of repairs or improvements, while also allowing them to make new requests for services. For example, I can use the same application when I am home in Washington, DC to report a broken parking meter as I would in San Francisco. I also spoke to CIOs from Boston, Chicago, DC, Los Angeles, Seattle, and San Francisco about accelerating the development of applications that the American people can use in their everyday lives.

    From downtown San Francisco, it was out to Silicon Valley to meet with venture capitalists and technology innovators, including, Mozilla, and Facebook, at IDEO Labs to discuss how government can improve how it is delivering services to the American people. We used a visual storyboard concept to capture our conversation, which you can see here.

    Later that afternoon, I met with companies like Apple and Google to learn how innovation is happening in the consumer space, through new platforms such as Apple’s online App Store.

    On Thursday, I travelled to the “other” Washington, where I started the day with CIOs from organizations such as Weyerhaeuser and Microsoft to hear about how they successfully manage large-scale IT projects. I also had the opportunity to look at some of the impressive investments in next generation technologies being made by companies like Microsoft and Amazon.

    I then delivered a speech at the University of Washington titled “Making Government Work: Closing the Technology Gap to Deliver for the American People.” I was very encouraged by the response and was pleasantly surprised when following my speech, dozens of professors and students lined up to ask questions and continue the dialogue. 

    Vivek Kundra at the Western Technology Industry Association Awards

    At the end of the day, I attended an industry awards celebration for local technology entrepreneurs, hosted by the Washington Technology Industry Association. It was great to see entrepreneurs from the “other” Washington talk to me about their ideas for helping us change the way Washington, DC works.

    Vivek Kundra is U.S. Chief Information Officer

  • Often overlooked in day-to-day political discussions, the opportunities for economic recovery through imports and exports, moving American goods around the world, should never be underestimated.  Along those lines, during his State of the Union address, the President set a goal of doubling exports over the next five years – an increase that will support two million additional jobs here at home.  At 11:15PM EST today, the President will address the Export-Import Bank's Annual Conference today to elaborate on his vision and approach, which has also been a focus of every trip he has taken since taking office.   Following up on the President's speech we're happy to welcome Commerce Secretary Gary Locke at 12:30 for a live online video chat where he'll take your questions on the President's remarks and policies.


  • While discussing health insurance reform in St. Charles, Missouri today, President Obama announced new efforts to reign in waste and fraud in Medicare, Medicaid and other government programs. He explained that the administration plans to prevent wasted dollars through the use of payment recapture audits by giving auditors incentives to catch improper payments and payment errors. He called for federal agencies to launch these audits across the country, which have been successful through pilot programs.  The audits are expected to return $2 billion in taxpayer money over the next 3 years.

    He also announced his support for the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act, a bipartisan bill to expand the government’s ability to perform such audits and prevent waste. The administration is working to cut programs that are not needed, increase accountability, and eliminate high-risk contracts. The President explained that by saving billions of dollars, government-run health care programs like Medicare can work better and provide better care.

    On the other side of the spectrum there are those who believe that the answer is to simply unleash the insurance industry, and provide less oversight and fewer rules. And that somehow that's going to drive down prices for everybody.  This is called the “putting the foxes in charge of the hen house” approach to health care reform. So whatever state regulations were in place, we’d get rid of those and so insurance companies could basically find a state that had the worst regulations and then from there sell insurance everywhere.  And that somehow that was going to be helpful to you.  All this would do would give insurance companies more leeway to raise premiums and deny care.

    So I don’t believe we should give either the government or the insurance companies more control over health care in America.  I want to give you more control over health care in America.

    President at St. Charles High School 3/10

    President Barack Obama delivers remarks on Medicaid fraud and health care reform at St. Charles High School in St. Charles, Missouri, March 10, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)

    The President also explained that his health care proposal would have three core reforms: ending the worst practices of insurance companies, creating a marketplace that allows for affordable health care options, and reducing costs for families, businesses, and the government. As a result, the government would reduce the deficit by $1 trillion dollars. Businesses have also conducted a study that shows the reforms are expected to reduce premiums by as much as $3000 per employee.

    So here’s the bottom line, St. Charles.  There’s no government takeover, unless you consider reining in insurance companies a government takeover -- and I think that’s the right thing to do.  There’s no cutting of Medicare benefits.  There’s just cutting out fraud and waste in Medicare to make it stronger. 

    What we’re proposing is a common-sense approach to protecting you from insurance company abuses and saving you money.  That’s the proposal, and it is paid for.  And I believe that Congress owes the American people a final up or down vote on health care reform.  The time for talk is over; it’s time to vote.

  • Today I had the honor of addressing BET’s first ever “Leading Women Summit” in Washington, DC. The Summit brought together artists, community activists, media representatives and professional women from across the country to work on finding solutions to some of the most pressing problems facing the African American community. I welcomed the opportunity to participate and offer my perspective on the health care crisis in our country, which, according to almost every available statistic, disproportionately affects Women of Color.

    For instance, consider the following facts:

    • Nearly one in five African Americans (19%) are without health care insurance.
    • African Americans in general spend a higher percentage of their income on health care costs compared to their white counterparts (16.5% vs. 12.2%).
    • African Americans also tend to live in areas where there are fewer hospitals or where quality care cannot be obtained.
    • African Americans suffer from higher percentages of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes, which are perpetuated by a lack of access to quality care. Currently, 48% of African American adults suffer from a chronic disease compared to 39% of the general population.

    With this in mind, my talk focused on President Obama’s unwavering commitment to reforming health insurance. He is determined to give Americans, not government or insurers, more control over their care. He has kept fighting against insurance companies that discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. He has kept fighting to reduce the costs of health care for families, businesses and government. He has kept fighting. He has kept fighting for people who are uninsured and small businesses to give them the same coverage as Members of Congress. And now it is time for an up-or-down vote in Congress, because that’s what the people deserve -- people like Leslie Banks and Natoma Canfield.

    The President met Leslie at a recent event in Philadelphia after she had written him a letter describing her frustrations with her insurance. Leslie is a self-employed, African-American single mother, whose daughter is a sophomore in college at Temple University. Leslie has type 2 diabetes. She can no longer afford her coverage after the insurer recently notified her of a 100% across the board rate hike and told her that the only way to stay at her previous rate would mean increasing her deductible from $500 to $5,000. Leslie is not available for coverage through her HMO because of her pre-existing condition.

    Leslie’s story is not that different from the one I told about Natoma Canfield, who also wrote the President about an incredible increase in her rates, which forced her to drop her coverage. President Obama read the letter at a meeting of insurance industry leaders to show them why he continues to push for reform. Since then, Natoma has been hospitalized with a serious blood disorder and she has no health insurance.

    As I related these stories, I couldn’t help but notice a lot of head-nodding in the audience. While nobody at today’s Summit knew Leslie or Natoma, the reality is we all know somebody whose life has been touched by the worst practices of the health insurance industry. That’s why it’s so important that we all work together to tackle this problem for the African American community and for all communities across America.

    Valerie Jarrett is Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement

  • I recently unveiled a series of magnificent murals that highlights the legacy of two of the greatest figures in U.S. Department of the Interior’s history, Secretary Harold Ickes and renowned photographer Ansel Adams. The murals represent 26 of the photos Ickes commissioned Adams to produce as part of the Department’s Mural Project of 1941.

    Ansel Adams Tetons

    Grand Teton, Snake River, Wyoming, National Archives no. 79-AAG-1 Ansel Adams

    On display in the main hallways of the first and second floors of the main Interior building, these stunning black-and-white photos convey the beauty Adams’ saw in our Department’s diverse mission, and include: a pair of Native American children; the eruption of Old Faithful; and the intricate network of power lines at Boulder Dam.

    Ickes and Adams first met in 1936, while attending a conference on the future of national and state parks.  Ickes was secretary of the Interior under President Franklin Roosevelt; Adams, a renowned photographer and president of the Sierra Club. The two immediately found a common bond in a deep love for the beauty of our nation’s land and a desire to see it conserve that land for future generations.

    In fact, Adams used his photographic talent to lead a successful campaign to save the Kings River area of the Sierra Nevada and have Congress designate it as Kings Canyon National Park.

    Ickes believed that the Interior building, which was completed in 1936, should be symbolic of the Department’s mission to manage and conserve our nation’s vast resources. So in 1941, he hired Adams to create a photographic mural for display in this building that reflected the Department’s mission: the beautiful land, the proper stewardship of our resources, and the people we serve.

    The attack on Pearl Harbor and our nation’s entry into World War II brought the project to a halt.  The more than 200 photographs that Adams took have been stored in the National Archives, but never printed or hung as murals.

    Now, with our installation of the murals, we are able to share with visitors from across the nation Ickes and Adams’ timeless vision for this Department — and how we are in the business of fulfilling that vision today.

    Ansel Adams Boulder Dam

    Boulder Dam Power Units, Colorado River, Nevada / Arizona Border, National Archives no. 79-AAB-5 Ansel Adams

    Ken Salazar is the Secretary of the Interior

  • Editor's Note: In case you missed them, read Part 1 and Part 2.

    Throw a rock in a still pond and you will observe many ripples.

    Throw a Recovery Act program in a stagnant economy and you will observe many jobs.

    Therein lies the lesson from our latest entry of the Recovery Act in Action, thanks to some truly thorough journalism by Robert Gavin of the Boston Globe.

    Gavin looked at the ripple effects, or—if you want to be boring—multipliers, from $77 million in Recovery Act contracts awarded to Reveal Imaging Technologies (RIT), a manufacturer of airport security equipment in Bedford, MA.

    RIT reports that thanks to the Recovery Act-funded contracts from the Transportation Security Administration, they’ve added nearly 40 jobs over the past year and they’re still hiring.  They’ve expanded their plant capacity, more than doubling the size of their facility.

    But what Gavin’s article shows is that beyond these direct hiring effects, there’s a lot more upstream and downstream job creation generated by this type of activity.  So far, RIT has subcontracted parts of its Recovery Act projects to 21 other companies in 12 states “that make components or provide services for its advanced scanning machines.”

    For example, an RIT subcontract helped reduce planned layoffs at a firm that assembles conveyor systems.  Same with a machine tool shop, whose “metal cutting machines, silent several months ago, are humming again” thanks largely to another RIT subcontract.

    I spoke to the owner of that machine shop, Jack McGrail.  He told me that most of 2009 was pretty dismal and that if things didn’t improve he was going to have to let some folks go.  Then, in November, the RIT order generated by the Recovery Act came in, and, as Jack said, “it saved me from laying two guys off and I was able to add one more.”

    That’s one type of multiplier effect—the jobs created by firms providing inputs to the final product.  But there’s another type that’s also important: the activity caused when people earn more and go out and spend it.  Gavin picked up this kind of activity too by visiting Rebecca’s Café, a restaurant near RIT that reports a 15% increase in sales since RIT expanded its workforce.

    The evidence around the RIT case supports something economists have known since Keynes taught it to us: the jobs you directly create through government spending at a time of recession are just the tip of the iceberg. 

    Thanks to the Recovery Act, there are hundreds of thousands of teachers in classrooms and police on the beat, construction workers fixing roads, weatherizing and rehabbing buildings, engineers building out the smart grid and planning new high-speed rail lines, and much more.  But as with RIT, for each one of these jobs, there are many others helping to supply materials and services to these firms and workers.

    We’ll be throwing a lot more stones in the water in coming months, and I’ll be sure to keep posted on both the splash and the ripples.

    Jared Bernstein is Chief Economic Advisor to the Vice President

  • This afternoon the First Lady announced the Apps for Healthy Kids Challenge -- a contest with the USDA to challenge professional and amateur developers to come up with games that incorporate nutritional information and promote healthy living. From dance video games to nutrition mobile applications, we’re challenging designers to come up with the next big idea to make healthy living fun. The App Challenge is just one of the innovative ways that the First Lady is working to help kids lead active, healthy lives and end childhood obesity within a generation, as part of the nationwide Let’s Move! campaign.

    Developer or not, we want to hear your ideas. This week, the White House is teaming up with GOOD to ask:

    What kind of healthy kid app would you like to see developed?

    Tell us on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. Some of the most interesting responses will be featured on the White House blog and on the GOOD blog, so stay tuned. And in case you missed it, take a look at your responses to last week’s question about a 21st century education.

    Learn more about the challenge and submit an application by visiting

    Please note that the username, personal identifier or icon affiliated with responses may be posted.