Read all posts from June 2011

  • Watch this video about the EPA's environmental app challenge here.

    I live in a community off the Chesapeake Bay and I love practically anything to do with being on or near the water! But I like different conditions for different activities. Sometimes I like wind and a high tide for windsurfing. Other times I like it still with a low tide for finding fossil shark teeth along the beach, and sometimes I like a changing tide for fishing. In addition to the water conditions, it’s also nice to know if storms are coming so I can get off the water before lightning strikes, and how sunny it’s going to be so I can make sure to bring my hat and sunscreen. And if I get lucky and catch some fish, it’s nice to know the minimum fish size I can keep and whether it’s safe to eat.

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    View the full-sized photo gallery.

    If you were reading my blog during National Transportation Week last month, you know it was a busy week for the Department of Transportation and for me.  In Tennessee, Nevada, and California, I saw innovative projects that will make Americans safer, create good jobs for U.S. workers, and help people get where they need to go without suffering at the gas pump.

    In Smyrna, Tennessee, I toured the construction site for Nissan's $1.7 billion electric vehicle battery plant, made possible, in part, by a loan from the US Department of Energy.  Nissan is building the new plant right next to an existing plant that is being converted to produce as many as 150,000 new Leaf electric vehicles a year.  Together, we expect the two facilities to create 1,300 new jobs.

  • Last week in Kansas City, and earlier this year in Minneapolis, federal agency staff hosted a roundtable discussion that brought together faith-based, educational, and advocacy organizations, business leaders and local government officials.

    At the Kansas City event, representatives from Office of Refugee Resettlement at the U.S Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Citizenship at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security heard from leaders who helped identify best practices and give their ideas about what the federal government can do to help immigrant populations and the communities where they settle.  

    At the Minneapolis event, representatives from the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and the President's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders led a group of AAPI advocates and community leaders in a frank, constructive discussion about integration successes and challenges and highlighted valuable partnerships they've made across business, law enforcement, and community sectors.

    And last month at the White House, the Administration highlighted community leaders – from San Diego, CA to Utica, NY – who are working to connect immigrants with critical services to learn English and assist in the naturalization process, as a part of our Champions of Change initiative. But hearing from two cities and bringing a handful of leaders to Washington, DC is not enough. That’s why the Administration is taking the conversation on the road. We believe that community leaders around the country are doing great work to integrate new immigrants into their communities and we want to know about it.

    Over the next three months, federal officials will be traveling around the country to gather feedback that will assist us in developing a federal strategy on immigrant integration. Look for us in a city near you:

    • Seattle, Washington on July 7th
    • Atlanta, GA on July 13th
    • Houston, Texas on July 26th
    • New York, NY on July 28th
    • Los Angeles, CA on August 5th
    • Detroit, MI on August 10th

    If we aren’t already headed to your hometown, we invite you to consider hosting a roundtable in your community. With your help on the ground, we will be one step closer to developing an effective federal strategy on immigrant integration and winning the future. Successful integration is part of President Obama’s vision for winning the future.  These efforts benefit immigrants and their families, but also strengthen our communities and nation as a whole.

  • Welcome to the West Wing Week, your guide to everything that's happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. This week, walk step-by-step with the President as he meets with his Jobs Council in North Carolina to discuss ideas that will accelerate job growth and improve America's competitiveness, tours a manufacturer of energy efficient lighting, travels to Puerto Rico, and more.

    Watch West Wing Week here.

    Thanks for checking out your West Wing Week. Find out more about the topics covered in this edition of West Wing Week:

  • President Barack Obama Meets with President Tsakhia Elbegdorj of Mongolia

    President Barack Obama meets with President Tsakhia Elbegdorj of Mongolia in the Oval Office, June 16, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

    This afternoon, President Obama met with President Tsakhia Elbegdorj of Mongolia in the Oval Office at the White House. During the meeting, they discussed steps to expand diplomatic, economic and defense cooperation between our two nations in pursuit of a common vision for bilateral relations and Mongolia’s role in East Asian affairs. The two Presidents released a Joint Statement reaffirming their commitment to a United States-Mongolia partnership based on common values and shared strategic interests.

  • Ed. Note: Cross-posted from the FastLane

    Two years ago, President Obama offered a new vision for sustainable communities (PDF) and vastly improved how our agencies work together. He challenged us to coordinate our efforts and help build communities where housing, public transportation, jobs, and services are conveniently connected, where businesses thrive, and where the air, water and land are clean.

    Check out this video about building sustainable near Boston here.

    That is the goal of the HUD-DOT-EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities. And since June 2009, we have worked to help improve access to affordable housing, provide more transportation options at lower costs, and protect the environment in communities across the nation.

  • In the coming days, First Lady Michelle Obama will be traveling to South Africa and Botswana to meet with young people from across Africa, including the Young African Women Leaders Forum. In a video message, Mrs. Obama invites young people at home, in Africa, and around the world to follow the trip and join the conversation:

    Download Video: mp4 (22MB) | mp3 (2MB)
     
    You can join the conversation on facebook and by using the hashtag #YoungAfrica on Twitter. Check WhiteHouse.gov/YoungAfrica for updates from the trip, videos of young leaders, and much more in the days and weeks to come.

  • Last week, President Obama met with young Americans in the West Wing to de-brief on the “100 Youth Roundtables” Initiative. In that session, young folks reflected on the feedback given to the White House during the course of the initiative. They discussed issues regarding environmental regulations, community organizations, legislation that the President supports, and how to really make a difference all around. To follow up on that feedback, the President announced a new series that will take us through the summer, called, “How to Make Change.” Check out his announcement:

    Download Video: mp4 (24MB)

    This series will specifically foster a conversation between young Americans, advocates, and the White House on the issues that matter to us all. What are specific deliverables you would like to see? What tools can we offer you so that you can achieve what you set out to achieve? Let us know! The full schedule for “How to Make Change” will be announced next week, so stay tuned.

    Kalpen Modi is Associate Director of the Office of Public Engagement.

  • Executive Branch Personnel Public Financial Disclosure reports for White House officials are now available.  Interested parties may request online those reports they would like to review.  Through this streamlined distribution process, each report is available in pdf form for transmission via email once the electronic form has been filed.  Requested reports will be emailed as quickly as possible.  Please call the press office if you have any questions.

    The application form to access the reports is available here.

  • Under the leadership of Secretary Eric Shinseki, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is undergoing a remarkable transformation that has dramatically improved Veteran access to the services they have earned. Because so many of today’s Veterans are familiar and comfortable with web-enabled applications and smartphones, our opportunities to “reach Veterans where they are” have never been greater, or more effective.  From eBenefits to Blue Button, VA is serious about automated electronic outreach.

    Engaging Veterans on their own terms is especially crucial in the area of mental health. Each year VA sees a steadily rising number of Veterans with mental health concerns, and extending our services to them – safely, reliably, and privately – is one of the Administration’s top priorities.  Over the last four years, Veterans seeking and receiving specialized mental health treatment at VA increased from 900,000 to 1.2 million; last year alone over 400,000 Veterans who received mental health treatment had a diagnosis of PTSD. Providing excellent care at VA facilities around the country to those who are ready to seek treatment has never been more important, but is only one way we can address the problem. 

  • Ed. Note: Cross-posted from SBA Blog

    Supporting growth and innovation in manufacturing is critical to helping America out-compete the rest of the world and create 21st-century jobs.

    On Monday, I was at DuPont in North Carolina holding a roundtable with manufacturers as part of the President’s meeting with the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. I talked to a small business that designed a safer tool for doctors to use in surgery, and they hope to start hiring and manufacturing soon.  In addition, I’ve talked to many more small manufacturers in recent weeks, from an industrial cabinet maker in El Paso to a “green” roof-shingle company in Buffalo. Their common thread is that they’re all making plans to grow and hire.

    They’re not alone.

    Since 2010, nearly 250,000 manufacturing jobs have been added in the U.S., helping reverse a decade-long trend when millions were lost.

    SBA Roundtable with Small Manufacturerers

    As part of the President's meeting with the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, SBA Administrator Karen Mills (on the left) holds a roundtable discussion with manufacturers at DuPont in North Carolina. (Photo by DuPont).

    At the SBA, we put important tools directly in the hands of small manufacturers, including more than $2 billion in financing to them last year alone. Through the Small Business Jobs Act, we also raised the SBA loan limit to small manufacturers to up to $5.5 million (the highest SBA loan limit ever) to help them buy a new warehouse or a big piece of equipment, and put Americans back to work.

  • Watch the President's full remarks here.

    This evening the President and First Lady welcomed members of Congress and their families to the White House for the annual White House Congressional picnic.

    Earlier in the day, First Lady Michelle Obama joined congressional families and AmeriCorps volunteers to help build a playground during the Congressional Family Service Project in partnership with KaBOOM!, a national non-profit organization that promotes activity for communities across the country. As the First Lady said before getting started, the playground they helped build at Imagine Southeast Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. was KaBOOM!’s 2,000th all-volunteer done-in-a-day playground. Find service opportunities near you at Serve.gov.

    First Lady Michelle Obama and a Young Volunteer at the KaBOOM! and Congressional Family Service Project

    First Lady Michelle Obama and a young volunteer mix cement as they help build a playground during the KaBOOM! and Congressional Family Service Project at Imagine Southeast Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., June 15, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

    First Lady Michelle Obama Joins Volunteers to Help Build a Playground

    First Lady Michelle Obama tightens a bolt on a climbing wall as she joins volunteers to help build a playground during the KaBOOM! and Congressional Family Service Project at Imagine Southeast Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., June 15, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

  • So this is fun.

    Like millions of dads across our country, President Obama has said that being a father is the “most important job he has.”  From coaching basketball to helping with homework, the President cherishes the time he gets to spend with his two girls, even when life gets busy.

    Today at a screening of the movie Cars 2 for military fathers and families, President Obama is kicking off something called the year of Strong Fathers, Strong Families as part of his Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative. It’s an effort with partners from around the nation to create simple opportunities for dads and kids to connect. Whether it’s a free game of bowling, a Major League Baseball or WNBA game, a visit to the zoo or aquarium, or discounts for dads and kids through partners like Groupon and LivingSocial, we’re excited to help create small moments that can have a big impact.  You can sign up for updates and find more in the coming days on www.fatherhood.gov.

    Military Fathers and Families at a Screening of the Movie "Cars 2"

    Military fathers and families listen as President Barack Obama stops by a screening of the movie "Cars 2" in the South Court Auditorium of the White House, June 15, 2011. The President talked about the year of "Strong Fathers, Strong Families" as part of his Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

  • During a time when we all – including the federal government – need to live within our means and find places to cut spending, any investments made by your government need to meet the test of whether it is an effective and efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

    Immunizing children from preventable diseases meets that test. As USAID Administrator Raj Shah announced in London on Monday, by making a multi-year commitment to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI), the US is able to get the most from our investment – leveraging a pledge of $450 million over three years more than eight-fold into billions of dollars in commitments from other donors, including the UK, the Gates Foundation, Norway and others.

  • On Monday, the White House brought together a range of stakeholders from throughout the energy sector—including  utility executives, state regulators, federal agencies, consumer advocates, technology leaders and entrepreneurs -- to discuss along with Administration officials the most effective ways of upgrading our country’s electric grid.  The White House also released a new report, A Policy Framework for a 21stCentury Grid, produced by the Cabinet-level National Science and technology Council.

    The advent of a range of information, communications, and energy technologies provides us with an opportunity to upgrade the grid in a manner that will enable it to operate more efficiently, more reliably, and to spur innovation.  To take best advantage of the opportunities provided by these technologies, A Policy Framework for a 21stCentury Grid establishes four key priorities:

    1. "Scale what works" to enable cost-effective smart grid investments;
    2. Unlock the innovation potential in the electricity sector with a continued focus on open interoperability standards;
    3. Empower consumers with education and access to their own energy usage information in consumer- and computer- friendly formats, with improved privacy safeguards and consumer protections; and
    4. Continue to secure the grid against natural disasters and cyber-threats.

    President Obama has set goals of having one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 and generating 80% of our electricity from a diverse set of clean energy sources by 2035.  Upgrading our grid can play an important role in moving towards these bold but achievable goals, as well as integrating renewable energy into the grid while also becoming better able to facilitate the wider use and charging of electric vehicles. Upgrading the grid would also have a direct effect on consumers by saving families money through increased efficiency and reliability, while also helping utilities avoid blackouts and restore power quicker when they occur. 

    We are already making progress. Secretary Chu announced on Monday that Recovery Act investments have enabled the installation of 5 million smart meters and 140,000 programmable thermostats to date. We are paving the way so customers have the information they need to make informed decisions about their energy use and can save money.

    We are also making progress bringing renewable energy to American cities and towns.  At Monday’s event, Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), announced the formation of a Department of Energy, Department of Interior, and CEQ-led Renewable Energy Rapid Response Team, which will improve Federal coordination and ensure timely review of proposed renewable energy projects and transmission lines.  In addition, the Administration continues to support transmission planning efforts, which have already resulted in the identification by stakeholders of high-priority transmission lines.

    As we heard this week, making sustained progress on grid modernization will take a collaborative partnership with States and stakeholders.  What works for New York isn’t the same as what might work for North Dakota or Texas. The Administration is committed to continuing to work with various stakeholders, hearing their concepts or concerns while also sharing lessons learned and best practices, as we move forward with this important project.

    We also heard from two inspiring high school students who have already set up their own non-profit to promote energy savings in schools. It is in that spirit the Department of Energy has launched an America’s Home Energy Education Challenge, to ensure students can learn about energy and help their families save money at the same time. Participants in that challenge are sure to benefit from electronic access to their energy data.

    Modernizing America’s electric grid is critical to winning the future.  A smarter and expanded electric grid – a 21st century electric grid – is an important part of continuing to build our 21st century clean energy economy, leveraging American ingenuity while creating jobs and maintaining American competiveness. Thanks to the efforts of the Administration and the many stakeholders that gathered at the White House on Monday, we are confident it will happen.

    Aneesh Chopra is US Chief Technology Officer

  • Yesterday was a historic day not just because President Obama commemorated President John F. Kennedy’s visit to Puerto Rico 50 years ago, but because of the historic engagement this Administration has carried out with Puerto Rico. The visit wasn’t just a stop on the President's itinerary but rather an opportunity to highlight the federal government’s comprehensive approach to addressing critical issues that matter to the people of Puerto Rico including status, economic development, job creation, education, health care and making Puerto Rico a model of clean energy.

    President Obama San Juan Airport

    President Barack Obama delivers remarks at a welcome event at Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, June 14, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)

  • Business investment in America creates and supports millions of jobs, while generating economic growth and opportunities in communities throughout the United States.

    Today at the Business Round Table in Washington, D.C., we announced a new initiative – SelectUSA – the first-ever government-wide program to aggressively pursue and win new business investment in the United States by both domestic and foreign companies.

    America has the most appealing investment environment in the world, with the largest consumer market, an educated workforce, strong intellectual-property protections and open capital markets.

    More than 5 million Americans are directly employed by foreign companies in the U.S., ranging from Japanese carmakers to British banks to Indian energy and industrial companies.

  • Watch the President's full remarks here.

    Today, President Obama traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico for the first official visit by a sitting U.S. President to the island since President Kennedy visited in 1961. The visit follows a comprehensive report of the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status, which provides a meaningful way forward on the question of status while making significant recommendations important to Puerto Rico’s economic development.

    President Barack Obama delivers remarks at Luis Munoz Marin

    President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the arrival ceremony at Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, June 14, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)

    A woman cheers at the arrival ceremony at Luis Munoz Marin

    A woman cheers President Barack Obama at the arrival ceremony at Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, June 14, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    President Obama La Fortaleza

    President Barack Obama tours La Fortaleza, the official residence of the Governor of Puerto Rico, with Gov. Luis Fortuno, First Lady Luce Vela de Fortuno and Rep. Pedro Pierluisi in San Juan, Puerto Rico, June 14, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

  • Back in February, President Obama asked the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness to help lead the Better Buildings Initiative to make American businesses more competitive by saving them about $40 billion per year in energy costs. The first question the Jobs Council asked, of course, was exactly how many jobs we were talking about here?

    As of today, the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst released an independent study projecting that the Better Buildings Initiative would create more than 114,000 jobs – half of which would come from a new tax credit for building energy upgrades that the President proposed to Congress in his 2012 budget. That would mean new jobs for people like contractors, sheet metal workers, engineers, and architects.

    Creating new jobs in building energy upgrades means we also need to develop new skills.

    Yesterday, I visited North Carolina Central University just prior to the Jobs Council meeting to talk about how they’re building skills for America’s future.

    Technical universities and community colleges are critical to developing new building industry professionals to take advantage of the opportunities that the Better Buildings Challenge will create. That’s why the National Institute of Standards and Technology, working with the Department of Energy, will announce a new competitive grant program for technical and community colleges later this summer – fulfilling President Obama’s commitment to launch a Commercial Building Technology Extension Partnership.

    To sustain this momentum, we also need to address how energy upgrades can improve the value of a building. A better building will cut your utility bills, but energy performance isn’t consistently factored into how buildings are appraised even though it’s an appropriate consideration under existing national standards. That’s because the information and tools that appraisers need aren’t readily available. That’s why the Department of Energy and The Appraisal Foundation – the Congressionally authorized source of appraisal standards and appraiser qualifications in the United States – have launched a collaboration to make sure that appraisers have what they need to make energy performance a recognized aspect of how buildings are appraised.

    Developing the market for building energy upgrades is more about silver buckshot than a silver bullet. It’s steady, systematic progress like this – working in partnership with business – that will attract the investment and create the jobs that will put America’s building industry to work making American businesses more efficient and competitive.

  • Yesterday, President Obama and Vice President Biden announced the “Campaign to Cut Waste” to ensure all cabinet agencies are being good stewards of taxpayer dollars and doing everything they can to make the government more efficient. Since the beginning of this Administration, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has made an unprecedented commitment to efficiency and fiscal discipline in order to best support our frontline operations.

    To date, DHS has identified over $1 billion in cost avoidances and cuts as a result of these efforts. Additionally, our fiscal year 2012 budget request included more than $800 million in reductions associated with administrative savings and Efficiency Review initiatives currently underway, from efforts to buy smarter and manage our real estate and space usage more efficiently, to cutting spending on professional services contracts, printing, supplies and materials, travel, and training.

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