Our Top Stories
March 14, 2011
03:52 PM EDT
Ed. Note: Records show that agencies have indeed made disclosure through FOIA a priority this past year. Learn more about the Justice Department's latest annual reports.
Sunshine Week is a welcome opportunity to size up the federal government’s progress in implementing the President and the Attorney General’s directives on openness and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). I’m glad to report that Agencies have made a lot of progress over the past year.
Many agencies — including the Departments of Commerce, Defense, and Health and Human Services, among many others — have taken concrete steps to improve their administration of FOIA.
Their efforts are collected at a new website dedicated to the Act, FOIA.gov. Launched on the first day of Sunshine Week by the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy (OIP), FOIA.gov provides detailed information about agencies’ FOIA activities, including important steps agencies around the government have taken to improve their FOIA architecture. FOIA.gov also provides ordinary citizens with basic information about FOIA and instructions about how to make a FOIA request. FOIA.gov is itself a testimony to the Administration’s commitment to FOIA.
And because greater disclosure of information through FOIA requires investment over the long term, the Administration is announcing additional steps during Sunshine Week to promote FOIA’s implementation further, including:
A New Federal Job Title
Today, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will allow agencies to use a new federal job title, FOIA Officer or FOIA Specialist, to designate agency staff committed to the administration of FOIA. OPM will also initiate a process to create a new job series for FOIA and other information professionals, so that agencies may more effectively recruit staff focused on FOIA. Learn more about the memos issued by OPM here.
A New Series of “Requester Roundtables”
Bringing together the FOIA requester community with federal agencies, the Office of Information Policy (OIP), in cooperation with the National Archives and Records Administration’s Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), will begin a new series of “Requester Roundtables,”. These regular roundtables will address specified issues of interest to the requester community, and facilitate FOIA practices best suited to requesters’ needs. OIP and OGIS will also provide agencies as well as requesters with best practices, specifically in the area of “complex” FOIA requests, to better match requesters’ needs with agencies’ capabilities.
A New Tool for Agencies to Process Requests
Agencies that require greater FOIA capacity on an episodic basis, to respond to unexpected spikes in FOIA requests for example, will also have a new tool at their disposal in 2011. The General Services Administration will undertake to amend its "Office, Imaging and Document Solution" Schedule 36 to provide a mechanism for agencies to acquire new technology, technical assistance and resources to assist with processing FOIA requests.
During upcoming weeks, agencies will proactively post on their Open Government web pages agency directories, so that citizens can more easily identify agency offices to meet their needs. In additional, agencies will also post official congressional testimony and agency reports to Congress required by statute, so that the public has better access to communications between agencies and the legislative branch. And over the next year, following the President’s Memorandum of January 18, 2011, agencies will proactively provide information about their regulatory compliance and enforcement activities, so that the public can hold both regulated parties and agencies themselves more accountable.
In these ways and more, agencies will continue to continue to provide still greater information through FOIA, wherever the law and sound policy allow.
- A New Federal Job Title
March 14, 2011
02:32 PM EDT
New numbers are in. Agencies’ Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) records show that agencies have indeed made disclosure through FOIA a priority this past year. According to the latest annual reports collected by the Justice Department, the use of FOIA exemptions by the fourteen cabinet departments decreased over the last year. Agencies are sharing more and withholding less.
Agencies also report that they relied on exemptions 2 and 5—those most within their discretion—far less frequently over the past year, down 20 percent and 26 percent respectively. And of all FOIA requests processed for the possible applicability of exemptions across all agencies to which FOIA applies, the government made partial or full disclosures about 93 percent of the time; in only some 7 percent of those cases did agencies withhold all requested documents. What’s more, in about 56 percent of the cases, the agency made a full disclosure, up a full 6 percent over last year. Agencies reduced their FOIA backlogs as well—the cabinet agencies by 10.9 percent and all agencies across the government by 10.2 percent.
Jesse LeeMarch 14, 2011
12:42 PM EDT
"I want every child in this country to head back to school in the fall knowing that their education is America’s priority. Let’s seize this education moment. Let’s fix No Child Left Behind." The audience at Kenmore Middle School in Virginia gave loud applause when the President announced that mission this morning. It's no small task, but it will be work informed by about a decade of lessons from NCLB's successes and failures, as well as two years of lessons from the President's innovative approaches like Race to the Top that leverage small investments to incentivize big reforms from the bottom up. The President's priorities and key changes from No Child Left Behind are laid in the White House fact sheet put out this morning -- here's the topline:
- A fair accountability system that shares responsibility for improvement and rewards excellence, and that is based on high standards and is informed by sophisticated assessments that measure individual student growth;
- A flexible system that empowers principals and teachers, and supports reform and innovation at the state and local level;
- And a system focused on the schools and the students most at risk -- that targets resources to persistently low-performing schools and ensures the most effective teachers serve students most in need.
So while applauding the goals of No Child Left Behind, the President spoke at length about the problems that need to be addressed if our education system is going to help us win the future by getting America back to the front of the pack in graduation rates and career-readiness:
Macon PhillipsMarch 13, 2011
06:52 PM EDT
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has released an overview of the United States' reponse in support of our friends in Japan.
Statement from the Press Secretary on the Ongoing U.S. Response to the Earthquakes and Tsunami in JapanOur thoughts and our prayers remain with the people of Japan. The President has been kept fully briefed on developments and the response throughout the weekend. As directed by the President, we have offered our Japanese friends whatever assistance is needed as America will stand with Japan as they recover and rebuild.
- For information on how you can help directly, USAID has pulled together options for donating to support the response effort.
- Any U.S Citizens in need of emergency assistance should send an e-mail to JapanEmergencyUSC@state.gov with detailed information about their location and contact information, and monitor the U.S. Department of State website at travel.state.gov.
Jesse LeeMarch 12, 2011
05:30 AM EDT
The President pays homage to former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, commends the great strides that have been made to create a more equal American society, and reaffirms his resolve to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Heidi AveryMarch 11, 2011
06:20 PM EDT
Many of you may remember us marking the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act this past July in a wonderful and moving event at the White House. On that day, we reflected on how far this historic law brought us in living up to our civil rights promises for all Americans – and how far we still have to go to make sure that every person in this country – regardless of their race, background, income and whether or not they have a disability – has equal access to all of the opportunities our great nation has to offer.
As the President put it better than anyone: “To move America forward. That’s what we did with the ADA. That is what we do today. And that’s what we’re going to do tomorrow -- together.” And today marked another historic day in this effort as FEMA and the National Disability Rights Network came together, along with other leaders and advocates from across the disability community, to sign a memorandum of agreement – an agreement that solidifies a partnership in working together to make sure we are planning for and meeting the needs of people with disabilities before, during, and after disasters strike.
It sounds like common sense, but the unfortunate truth is that for years the needs of people with disabilities were more of an afterthought during disasters. Not enough was done to make sure that shelters planned for the access and functional needs of individuals who might require wheelchairs to be replaced or beds at a certain height if it was necessary to evacuate during a disaster. Residents who were blind or deaf, and those with intellectual disabilities didn’t have access to critical information about evacuation routes or other warnings. And in some cases, accessible transportation for people with disabilities just wasn’t factored into planning at all. This was largely due to a simple lack of coordination and upfront planning for the whole of community.
Kori SchulmanMarch 11, 2011
05:52 PM EDT
A quick look at the week of March 7, 2011:
Earthquake in Japan and Tsunami Preparedness: The President and First Lady express their deepest condolences to the people of Japan as the President meets with senior officials to discuss how the US can help, and how it may affect U.S. states and territories.
Conference on Bullying Prevention: The President and First Lady host the first-ever White House Conference on Bullying Prevention dispelling the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. See their video message on the issue.
March 11, 2011
05:36 PM EDT
Editor's note: This was originally posted on the Department of Energy blog.
Yesterday, the Department of Energy announced that we’ve now finalized a loan for nearly $50 million to the Vehicle Production Group – or VPG. The project will support the development and manufacturing of a new wheelchair accessible, fuel-efficient car, the MV-1, that will run on compressed natural gas instead of gasoline, produce low emissions, and create 900 jobs across the country.
This new American car company focuses on helping those with mobility issues by developing vehicles that allow them to travel comfortably and safely. The MV-1 vehicle was designed from the ground-up for wheelchair accessibility. It will provide new opportunities and more independence for Americans who use wheelchairs, while also reducing carbon pollution and supporting America’s automotive industry. This project supports the Administration’s commitment to supporting innovation and American ingenuity while improving the quality of life for Americans who use wheelchairs.
Jesse LeeMarch 11, 2011
03:17 PM EDT
From the tragedy in Japan, to turmoil in Libya and the related rising gas prices here at home, to the ongoing debate over the government’s budget, there was a great deal for the President to discuss during his press conference this afternoon.
During his opening remarks, though, he began with the earthquake that struck Japan and the tsunamis that resulted, explaining that US assistance is already en route, and that while there hasn’t been major damage to the US or its territories so far, FEMA is taking the situation very seriously.
Today’s events remind us of just how fragile life can be. Our hearts go out to our friends in Japan and across the region and we’re going to stand with them as they recover and rebuild from this tragedy.
The President used the rest of his opening remarks before taking questions to discuss rising gas prices, which are a concern for virtually every family and business in the country. He touched on the causes of the rise, ranging from world-wide economic recovery that has driven up demand and therefore prices, to the recent jolt resulting from the unrest in the Middle East and Libya. He also touched on what is not causing the rise in prices, namely the fiction that his Administration has choked off oil production – as he noted, and as this White House fact sheet (pdf) explains in detail, our oil production reached its highest level in seven years last year and oil production from federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico reached an all-time high – “So any notion that my administration has shut down oil production might make for a good political sound bite, but it doesn’t match up with reality.”
Jeffrey ZientsMarch 11, 2011
02:29 PM EDT
Competing in the global economy will take cutting our deficits while investing in the areas critical to long-term economic growth and competitiveness. By out-educating, out-innovating, and out-building our competitors, we will enable our private sector to grow, create jobs, and thrive in the years ahead.
At the same time, we cannot win the future with a government built for the past. We live and do business in the information age, but the organization and operation of the Federal Government has not kept pace. For too long, taxpayer dollars have been wasted on ineffective and inefficient programs, and the Federal Government has not done all it can do to support the Nation’s companies, entrepreneurs, and innovators.
Already, the Administration has taken on this waste. The President’s budget consolidates and eliminates duplicative programs and proposes more than 200 terminations, reductions, and savings totaling approximately $30 billion in savings in 2012 alone. We cut contracting spending for the first time in 13 years; we’re saving billions of dollars by improving how the government buys and utilizes information technology; and we’ve proposed a plan to accelerate selling off excess federal real estate that would return $15 billion over the first three years.
Today, the President is taking two important steps to take these efforts to the next level.
First, in his State of the Union address, the President announced an initiative that we need to reorganize the Federal Government in order to give Americans a 21st century government that’s efficient and effective and will support American competitiveness. He asked me and Lisa Brown to lead that effort.
Today, the President issued a memorandum directing us to conduct a review of the federal agencies and programs involved in Trade, Exports and Competitiveness, including analyzing their scope and effectiveness, areas of overlap and duplication, unmet needs, and possible cost savings. The President has asked for recommendations for potential action to restructure and streamline government programs focused on trade and competitiveness within 90 days.
March 11, 2011
12:26 PM EDT
Ed. Note: Cross-posted from the America's Great Outdoors blog.
Last month President Obama announced the final report of his America’s Great Outdoors initiative, featuring young Americans who are excited about conservation and ready to get involved in the outdoors. Your suggestions were clear. You want the outdoors to be relevant and accessible to everyone. You want jobs and more opportunities to learn in the outdoors. But most importantly, you want to help make it happen. Now, we want to keep the conversation going.
Please join us on Thursday March 17th at 2:00 p.m. EST as Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar answer your questions live at WhiteHouse.gov/live.
You can also submit questions live via the White House Facebook app.
With the release of the America’s Great Outdoors report we mark a new beginning in our efforts to reconnect our nation’s young people to the natural places that define our country and fuel our spirit of adventure. Our nation’s youth have spoken. Now it’s up to us to listen to what you’ve said.
Jesse LeeMarch 11, 2011
12:03 PM EDT
This morning the President wasted no time in offering his condolences and America's assistance to the people of Japan, issuing the following statement:
Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to the people of Japan, particularly those who have lost loved ones in the earthquake and tsunamis. The United States stands ready to help the Japanese people in this time of great trial. The friendship and alliance between our two nations is unshakeable, and only strengthens our resolve to stand with the people of Japan as they overcome this tragedy. We will continue to closely monitor tsunamis around Japan and the Pacific going forward and we are asking all our citizens in the affected region to listen to their state and local officials as I have instructed FEMA to be ready to assist Hawaii and the rest of the US states and territories that could be affected.
In addition, the White House just released the following outline of the President's briefings:
President Obama Receives Briefing on the Earthquake in Japan and the Tsunami Preparedness and Response Actions in the United States
WASHINGTON—President Obama received a briefing this morning at 9:30 a.m. in the Oval Office on the earthquake in Japan and the tsunami warnings across the Pacific from a number of senior US government officials including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate via phone, and in the Oval Office with Chief of Staff Bill Daley, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security John Brennan, National Security Advisory Tom Donilon, Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, Senior Advisor David Plouffe, Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco, National Security Staff Senior Director for Resilience Richard Reed and National Security Staff Director Asian Affairs Daniel Russel.
The senior officials provided the President with an update on the evolving situation stemming from the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck Japan early this morning including the actions being taken to assist U.S. states and territories that could be affected by the tsunami, as the President directed earlier this morning – as well as the work being done to be prepared to assist the people of Japan.
The US government continues to monitor the situation closely throughout the Pacific region. To support potentially impacted areas in the United States, the federal government remains in close contact and coordination with state and local officials, and stands ready to support them. The government’s message to the public is simple: listen to the instructions of state and local officials. We urge everyone in the regions who could be impacted to listen to a NOAA Weather Radio and their local news to monitor for updates and directions provided by their local officials.
UPDATE: The President again spoke again on the situation during the opening of his press conference:
Good morning, everybody. Before I begin, I want to say a few words about the terrible earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan earlier today.
First and foremost, our thoughts and our prayers are with the people of Japan. This is a potentially catastrophic disaster and the images of destruction and flooding coming out of Japan are simply heartbreaking. Japan is, of course, one of our strongest and closest allies, and this morning I spoke with Prime Minister Kan. On behalf of the American people, I conveyed our deepest condolences, especially to the victims and their families, and I offered our Japanese friends whatever assistance is needed.
We currently have an aircraft carrier in Japan, and another is on its way. We also have a ship en route to the Marianas Islands to assist as needed. The Defense Department is working to account for all our military personnel in Japan. U.S. Embassy personnel in Tokyo have moved to an offsite location. And the State Department is working to account for and assist any and all American citizens who are in the country.
Tsunami warnings have been issued across the Pacific, and we’ve already seen initial waves from the tsunami come ashore on Guam and other U.S. territories, in Alaska and Hawaii, as well as on -- along the West Coast. Here in the United States, there hasn’t been any major damage so far. But we're taking this very seriously, and we are monitoring the situation very closely. FEMA is fully activated and is coordinating with state and local officials to support these regions as necessary. And let me just stress that if people are told to evacuate, do as you are told.
Today’s events remind us of just how fragile life can be. Our hearts go out to our friends in Japan and across the region and we’re going to stand with them as they recover and rebuild from this tragedy.
March 11, 2011
11:35 AM EDT
Today is the last day to submit an application for the Race to the Top Commencement Challenge! Submit your application by 11:59 p.m. EST for a chance to have President Obama as a commencement speaker at your school this spring.
Simone Boehme, one of the graduating seniors from last year's winning school, visited the White House to talk to President Obama about the experience. Check out the video:
Applying to the Commencement Challenge is easy and only requires three essays and some information about student achievement. Applications will not be accepted after 11:59 PM EST so don’t miss out on the opportunity to have an unforgettable graduation. For more information on the Commencement Challenge, visit WhtieHouse.gov/Commencement.
Arun ChaudharyMarch 11, 2011
12:00 AM EDT
Welcome to the West Wing Week, your guide to everything that's happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. This week, President Obama focused on education, visiting some innovative classrooms in Miami and Boston, and dropping in on a US History class in Arlington, Virginia with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
Elizabeth AlexanderMarch 10, 2011
05:43 PM EDT
Today, before a packed auditorium at Moscow State University, Vice President Biden delivered a powerful speech to U.S. and Russian students and business leaders. Echoing messages conveyed during his earlier meetings with Russian President Dimitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin over the course of his three-day visit, Vice President Biden hailed the successful “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations and reiterated his call for broader economic cooperation between the two countries.
Secretary Kathleen SebeliusMarch 10, 2011
04:31 PM EDT
Just last week, President Obama told the nation’s governors: “If your State can create a plan that covers as many people as affordably and comprehensively as the Affordable Care Act does – without increasing the deficit – you can implement that plan, and we’ll work with you to do it. I’ve said before, I don’t believe that either party holds a monopoly on good ideas. And I will go to bat for whatever works, no matter who or where it comes from.”
If States can reform their health care systems earlier and better to meet the needs of their citizens, then they should have the flexibility to do so. Consistent with the proposed bipartisan “Empowering States to Innovate Act,” sponsored by Senators Ron Wyden, Scott Brown, Mary Landrieu, Ben Nelson, Joe Manchin, and Patrick Leahy, this Administration recognizes that each individual state is a powerful driving force behind their own health care.
March 10, 2011
04:01 PM EDT
First Lady Michelle Obama greets guests during the International Women's Day reception in the East Room of the White House. March 8, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)
The international theme of this year’s celebration is “Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women.” Not only are women and girls essential to winning the future in the United States, they are important for global prosperity. Just in time for International Women’s Day, the United Nations released a report that giving women the same agricultural tools, resources, and access to work as men could feed 150 million people. And last week, our White House Council on Women and Girls released our report on “Women in America,” that documented “ the ways in which American women and girls have made substantial progress in educational attainment and achievement in the last few decades.” The full report can be found here.
The President has emphasized the importance of education, and especially in math, science and technology. As he recently said at the TechBoston Academy, “There’s no better economic policy than one that produces more graduates with the skills they need to succeed -- to start their own businesses, to create their own Microsoft, to create new industries.” And to win the future we will need women and girls to fully participate in those fields and careers of the future. You can read more about the President’s commitment to women in education here. That’s why we are committed to investing in the efforts of the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation to encourage girls to pursue science, math, engineering, and technology. Preparing young women for careers in these important fields is key to our commitment to innovation and growth. That’s why Startup America, a new public/private collaboration launched by the President, will help female entrepreneurs connect with corporations, startup funders, foundations and mentors to help their businesses start and grow.
Kalpen ModiMarch 10, 2011
03:55 PM EDT
Continuing a tradition that goes all the way back to 1962 when President Kennedy welcomed young people to the White House, President Obama greeted student delegates from the US Senate Youth Program in the East Room on Wednesday.
The President talked about the importance of leadership, and his belief in how young people can and do change the world for the better. He took a couple of questions from students who asked about the President’s experiences thus far, his vision for the country over the next several decades, and what he enjoys most about his job.
Check out footage of the event:
March 10, 2011
01:37 PM EDT
Today is the sixth annual National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, a nationwide initiative coordinated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health (OWH) to make more people aware of the increasing impact that this deadly epidemic is having on women and girls in the United States. This is the time when we ask individuals and organizations across the country to bring attention to this epidemic and to take action to prevent the spread of this disease.
Since the beginning of the epidemic, women have been impacted by HIV and AIDS. Over the last two decades, the proportion of estimated AIDS cases diagnosed among women has more than tripled, from 7 percent in 1985 to 25 percent in 2009. Women of color are especially impacted—HIV diagnosis rates for Black women is nearly 20 times the rate for white women. HIV infection is one of the leading causes of death among Black and Latina women age 25-44 years.
Jesse LeeMarch 10, 2011
01:05 PM EDT
“If there’s one goal of this conference, it’s to dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. It’s not.” That’s how the President explained the first-ever White House Conference on Bullying Prevention during the opening session of the day-long summit. And judging by the attention, passion, and intense interest that the issue has generated over the past few days, it’s a sentiment that millions of Americans share, and hopefully all of this discussion will help those who want to break unfortunate traditions to realize they’re not strange or alone.
The President was joined by First Lady Michelle Obama on stage, who gave her own opening remarks:
So as parents, we know we need to make a real effort to be engaged in our children’s lives, to listen to them and be there for them when they need us. We need to get involved in their schools and in their activities so that we know what they’re up to, both in and out of the classroom. And when something is wrong, we need to speak up, and we need to take action.
That’s just what Jacqui Knight did. She’s a mom from Moore, Oklahoma, who’s here with us today. We got a chance to spend some time with her before. But when her child was bullied, she got together with other parents and planned community meetings where parents and students could share their stories. They also held meetings for the public to raise awareness about bullying. And they’ve been meeting with the school board and superintendent to discuss steps that they can take to keep their kids safe.
But parents aren’t the only ones who have a responsibility. We all need to play a role -- as teachers, coaches, as faith leaders, elected officials, and anyone who’s involved in our children’s lives. And that doesn’t just mean working to change our kids’ behavior and recognize and reward kids who are already doing the right thing. It means thinking about our own behavior as adults as well.
The President spoke not only as the host of the Conference, but as a father and as somebody who remembers his own childhood well: