Read all posts from November 2011

  • Ed. Note: This blog is cross-posted from fastlane.dot.gov.

    As Chairman of the federal Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility, I’ve enjoyed collaborating with my colleagues across the government to better coordinate our transportation, housing, medical, and other services on behalf of America’s neediest citizens. Today, I’m thrilled to announce the fruits of our latest collaboration, the Veterans Transportation and Community Living Initiative.

    The new FTA initiative will invest $34.6 million in 55 different "one-click, one-call" transportation resource centers across the country, bringing more transportation choices and better job access to a very special group of Americans—our military heroes, veterans, wounded warriors, and their families.

    Many military families live in suburban and rural communities where long car commutes eat up the family’s gas budget, and public transportation options are limited. The projects funded by this initiative will bridge the transportation gap by helping states and communities build or expand centers that offer information on local transportation options by phone or internet.

    Secretary Ray LaHood, Increase Veterans Access

    Secretary Ray LaHood announces a Veterans initiative to help the Jacksonville Transportation Authority create a one-call, one-click transportation resource center. November 9, 2011. (by Department of Transportation)

  • Ed. Note: Cross-posted from the Department of Homeland Security blog

    Today, President Obama signed an Executive Order entitled “Promoting Efficient Spending” as part of the administration-wide Campaign to Cut Waste. I am proud that one of our DHS colleagues, Celeste Steele, from the Management Directorate, was able to join the President as he highlighted the Administration’s efforts to more effectively and efficiently use taxpayer dollars, including through the DHS Efficiency Review, which Vice President Biden recently highlighted as a model effort for other agencies

    Celeste, a DHS employee since 2004, with more than 30 years of federal experience, is committed to cutting costs and finding efficiencies in her day-to-day work.  “I try to find better ways of doing things every day. I am always looking for innovative value added solutions that will save taxpayer money. Efficiency and cutting costs is what drives me,” says Celeste. 

    In response to the ThinkEfficiency Campaign, in which DHS employees provide suggestions on ways the Department can avoid costs, streamline processes, and improve customer service, Celeste proposed that rather than using multiple smaller contracts, DHS leverage the purchasing power of the entire Department for commonly used items such as intelligence services, fleet management, and aviation parts, which will save the Department tens of millions of dollars. Building on this idea, as part of the DHS-wide Efficiency Review, we now look to leverage the Department’s buying power on many other commonly-used items, such as office equipment and uniforms which will save the department more than $370 million over the next five years.

    Through the Efficiency Review, other Department-wide efforts, and component initiatives, DHS has identified more than $1 billion in cost avoidances and implemented 36 efficiency initiatives across the agency. Behind each of these initiatives are the employees like Celeste from across DHS who propose efficiency ideas, implement them, and fundamentally change the way the federal government operates.

  • 20111109 POTUS Signing

    President Barack Obama talks with the media before signing an Executive Order as part of the “We Can’t Wait” campaign, to cut waste and promote efficient spending across the federal government, in the Oval Office, Nov. 9, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

     

    Since day one, this Administration has been committed to rooting out waste and misspent tax dollars in every agency across the Federal government. From getting unneeded federal properties off our books, to cracking down on improper payments, to reducing the number of federal data centers, we have made great strides in delivering a government that is more efficient and effective for the American people. In addition, this past June, the President and Vice President launched the Campaign to Cut Waste, a redoubling of our efforts to end what doesn’t work and do more for less.

    Today, the Administration announced additional steps we’re taking to build on these efforts. This morning, President Obama signed an Executive Order that will cut waste and promote more efficient spending across the federal government. The Order sets bold goals for agencies to reduce spending on travel; limit the number of information technology devices (e.g. cell phones, smartphones, tablets, laptops) that can be issued to individual employees; stop unnecessarily printing documents that can be posted online; shrink the executive fleet of the federal government; and stop using taxpayer dollars to buy swag -- the unnecessary plaques, clothing, and other promotional items that agencies purchase. Overall spending in the areas covered by the Executive Order will be reduced by 20 percent, saving billions.

  • 20111108 Head Start Announcement

    President Barack Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, right, talk with students while visiting a classroom at the Yeadon Regional Head Start Center in Yeadon, Pa., Nov. 8, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    We know that the first years of our children’s lives are critical. That’s when the most rapid development happens in their brains and when they pick up the social, emotional, and academic skills that will help them succeed.  When children get what they need during these early years, it can lay the foundation for success in school and through every stage of their lives.

    President Obama and HHS’s announcement today of historic reforms to the Head Start program will help to ensure that all children in Head Start are attending top-notch programs that will help them reach their full potential. The Department of Health and Human Services will implement new rules that will – for the first time in the program’s history– require all Head Start grantees that fail to meet a new set of rigorous quality benchmarks to compete for continued federal funding.

    Under the new rules, programs that fall short of quality benchmarks will have to compete. We will put out a notice to all early education providers in their communities: If you can do better, you’ll get the Head Start funding.  And after the initial round of reviews, Head Start providers will continue to be evaluated every five years to make sure they’re maintaining a high standard of performance.

    The best Head Start programs do much more than teach kids their ABCs. They help children develop the self-control and critical thinking they need to become successful learners. They connect kids with essential health services like immunizations that they may otherwise go without. They get moms and dads engaged in their children’s education. They put kids on a path to opportunity.

    This rule is a key part of the President’s broader agenda to strengthen Head Start. In the last two years, we’ve also improved training for Head Start providers, provided mentors for programs that want to improve, and created 20 Centers of Excellence that are models for the rest of the Head Start community. Combined with this new system of evaluation and competition, Head Start providers today have more tools and more incentives to improve than ever before in the program’s history.

    In a world where the jobs follow the best trained workers, America’s capacity to lead the world will depend on our success in educating all of our children, including those most at risk for falling behind. The early years are critical to that success. This Administration will continue to work to make sure our children can grow up with the tools and experience they need to compete. 

    Today’s Head Start children are tomorrow’s workforce.  Today we are taking a historic step toward making sure all children in Head Start get the top notch early education they need to succeed.

  • $500 Million

    A top-notch educational system is critical not just for our children’s futures, but also for the future of our economy. Countries that out-educate us in the classroom today will out-compete us in the global economy tomorrow, and we can’t wait to invest in our students’ success. That’s why President Obama is taking steps to ensure our students get a world class education starting from their earliest years—steps like the recently announced Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge, which will provide $500 million in state-level competitive grants to improve early learning and development programs.

    Research shows that high-quality early learning programs improve children's health, development, cognitive ability, and even their chances of graduating from high school and college. High-quality programs also help close the wide school readiness gap between children with high needs and their peers.

    Thirty-five states have already applied for the competitive grant program. To qualify for a piece of the funding, schools must show they are committed to improving their early learning programs and adopt common standards that define what children should know and be able to do.

    President Obama also announced changes today to help improve the quality and accountability of Head Start, the federally funded early education program. Those programs that do not meet high standards will have to compete against others in their communities for federal funding, rather than receiving money automatically.

  • Today, the Affordable Care Act scored another win in court when the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the law is constitutional. In upholding the constitutionality of the law, Judge Laurence H. Silberman reaffirmed that Congress has the constitutional authority “to forge national solutions to national problems” like the need to provide affordable, quality health care to all Americans.

    The ruling is yet another victory for the millions of Americans who are already benefitting from the law including the parents of children with preexisting conditions, women getting mammograms with no out-of-pocket cost, seniors saving hundreds of dollars on their prescription drugs, and one million young adults now newly insured through their parent’s plan.

    The ruling also marks the third time a federal appeals court has ruled in favor of the law. Previously, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed opponents’ cases against the law.

    The Administration has also asked the Supreme Court to hear these cases. We’re confident that, like today, we will prevail. Here’s why:

    • The Affordable Care Act, through the individual responsibility requirement, will require everyone, if they can afford it, to carry some form of health insurance since everyone at some point in time participates in the health care system, and incurs costs that must be paid for. For the 83% of Americans who have coverage and who are already taking responsibility for their health care, their insurance premiums will decrease over time.  Only those who are able to pay for health insurance will be responsible for obtaining it and new tax credits and other provisions in the law will make health insurance affordable for middle class families. That’s why the Congressional Budget Office estimated that only 1 percent of all Americans would pay a penalty for not having health insurance in 2016. 
    • Opponents of reform wrongly claim that Congress exceeded its authority in regulating when and how people pay for health care. Those who claim that the “individual responsibility” provision exceeds Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce are simply wrong. People who make a decision to forego health insurance do not opt out of the health care market.  Their action is not felt by themselves alone.  Instead, when they become ill or injured and cannot pay their bills, their costs are shifted to others. Those costs – $43 billion in 2008 alone – are borne by doctors, hospitals, insured individuals, taxpayers and small businesses throughout the nation.
    • Additionally, banning insurance companies from discriminating against people with preexisting conditions helps to ensure that every American who can afford it has insurance.  We don’t let people wait until after they’ve been in a car accident to apply for auto insurance and get reimbursed, and we don’t want to do that with health care.  If we’re going to outlaw discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, people should not be allowed to game the system and raise costs on everyone else.  

    Stephanie Cutter is Assistant to the President and Deputy Senior Advisor

     

  • Ed. Note: Cross-posted with the Small Business Administration blog.

    Like many Americans in my generation, my father was a World War II veteran.  My life has been shaped and influenced by his service.  Now, as Deputy Administrator at the SBA, I am committed to supporting America’s veteran entrepreneurs and business owners as they grow their business and put America back to work.

    Just yesterday, I hosted a forum for young veterans on the campus of San Diego State University as part of SBA’s Young Entrepreneurs Series and National Entrepreneurship Month. I was happy to meet so many young veterans who are using the skills and leadership they learned in the military to start and run a business.  

    We talked about a number of important issues facing veteran-entrepreneurs who are part of America’s small business community.  We discussed important American Jobs Act proposals such as the call that President Obama made yesterday for Congress to provide large tax credits to businesses that hire veterans and service-disabled veterans.  This is something that everyone can and should support.

    Today, we’re putting forth even more ideas to support veteran business owners as they grow and hire with a report from the Interagency Task Force on Veterans Small Business Development, which the President created and I have the honor to chair.  The Task Force came up with 18 recommendations across three priority areas: 

  • We've all heard tests of the Emergency Alert System. They occur all the time at the local level, but on Wednesday, at 2:00 ET, the federal government will conduct the first-ever nationwide evaluation of the system.

    The test will last about 30 seconds and be broadcast on television and radio stations across the country. It will allow emergency personnel to assess and improve our alerting capabilities in the event of a crisis.  

    Watch Craig Fugate -- the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- as he discusses the plan for Wednesday:

     

  • Watch an Introduction to the Veteran's Job Bank, here

    The Obama Administration today launched a new tool that is designed to help put our veterans in contact with companies that appreciate their skills, and are eager to hire them. Built in collaboration with some of the country's leading technology companies, this easy to use tool means that veterans are now just a click or two away from career opportunities. Watch this video and find out how you or a veteran you know can get started right now/

  • On Monday morning, the Census Bureau released findings that provide a more accurate look at the impact public policy has on poverty. These data demonstrate that policies supported and extended by the President to give a helping hand to those hit hardest by the recession – tax cuts for working families, assistance for basic food costs and school lunches, and help with housing – kept millions of Americans out of poverty last year. 

    Additionally, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a new report based on the Census Bureau’s new data which found that provisions passed as part of the Recovery Act directly lifted nearly 7 million Americans out of poverty in 2010 and reduced poverty for 32 million more. This is on top of 6 million people lifted out of poverty by these policies in 2009. And these numbers are conservative estimates that do not reflect the indirect benefits from the jobs created through these policies. 

    In contrast to this approach, Republicans in Congress opposed all of these measures and passed a budget that would both cut back on many of these programs and also convert them into block grants, which would prevent them from automatically expanding in hard times. Had we followed that path, many more Americans would be in poverty today. 

  • Today, the Obama Administration launched the Veterans Job Bank, a new search tool designed to help connect veterans with employers.  The Job Bank works by bringing jobs listings directly to veterans—instead of the other way around—via a search widget that provides a single window into the myriad job boards, social media platforms, and corporate employment sites that are currently spread across the Internet.

  • White House Fellows Program Director Cindy Moelis, Dr. Anish Mahajan (WHF Class of 2009-2010) and Erica Jeffries (WHF Class of 2010-2011) will be answering your questions about the White House Fellow application process and the Fellowship experience in a live video chat on Thursday, November 10 at 12:00 p.m. EST.

    The White House Fellows Program is America's most prestigious fellowship for leadership and public service. We're answering your questions about the program designed to provide exceptional men and women with first-hand experience working at the highest levels of the Federal Government. The President’s Commission on White House Fellowships is currently accepting applications for the 2012-2013 Class. The application deadline is Friday, January 13, 2012 at 5:59 p.m. (EST).

    Right now, submit your questions:

    Thursday, November 10 at 12:00 p.m. EST:

    Visit WhiteHouse.gov/fellows to learn more about the program.

  • 500,000

    President Obama believes that no veteran should have to fight for a job after fighting for our nation overseas. That’s why he’s introduced a host of new tools to help connect veterans to jobs in the civilian workforce, including the Veterans Job Bank, which has more than 500,000 job listings with private sector employers looking to hire vets.

    To launch the Veterans Job Bank, the Obama Administration partnered with leading job search companies to create a new, easy-to-use online service that enables employers to “tag” job postings for veterans. The tool gives users the ability to search for jobs from thousands of military-friendly employers worldwide based on keyword, military occupation code (MOC) and/or location.

    Nearly 3 million service members have transitioned back to civilian life, and a million more will join them over the next five years as we end the war in Iraq and wind down the war in Afghanistan. These service members have mastered skills and leadership abilities they couldn’t have learned in any ordinary classroom, and have tremendous talents to offer our nation’s businesses.

    President Obama knows we can’t wait to help these heroes and their families. Other initiatives to help get them back to work include:

  • Watch President Obama's full remarks here

    The overall unemployment rate ticked down last month and our economy has added more than 350,000 private sector jobs over the past three months. But, over 850,000 veterans were unemployed as of October and the jobless rate for post-9/11 veterans was 12.1 percent. Having served and defended our nation, it just doesn’t make sense that so many of these well-trained, highly skilled, motivated and disciplined veterans can’t find a job worthy of their incredible talents. As the President has said, "If you can save a life in Afghanistan, you can save a life in an ambulance. If you can oversee millions of dollars of assets in Iraq, you can help a business balance its books here at home."

    Ensuring our nation’s veterans get the opportunities they have earned has been one of President Obama’s top priorities as Commander-in-Chief. Having already sent 600,000 veterans back to school on the Post-9/11 GI Bill and having hired over 120,000 veterans into the federal government, this Administration continues to take action to help create job opportunities for veterans.

    Today at the White House, leading veterans service organizations joined President Obama to announce their support for the Returning Heroes and Wounded Warrior Tax Credits, two provisions in the American Jobs Act Congress is scheduled to consider this week. The Returning Heroes Tax Credit provides firms that hire unemployed veterans with a maximum credit of $5,600 per veteran, while the Wounded Warriors Tax Credit offers firms that hire veterans with service-connected disabilities a maximum credit of $9,600 per veteran.  

    The President also announced a series of executive actions that will provide new resources for veterans to translate military experience to the private sector job market, give veterans additional career development support and better identify companies looking to hire veterans. These initiatives include:

    Veteran Gold Card:Effective today, post-9/11 veterans will be able to visit dol.gov/vets/goldcard.html to download the Veteran Gold Card, which entitles them to enhanced services including six months of personalized case management, assessments and counseling, at the roughly 3,000 One-Stop Career Centers located across the country. This should help serve the more than 200,000 unemployed post-9/11 veterans. The President directed the Department of Labor to launch this initiative in his August 4, 2011 speech at the Navy Yard.

    My Next Move for Veterans: The Department of Labor will launch My Next Move for Veterans (mynextmove.org/vets), a new online resource that allows veterans to enter their military occupation code and discover civilian occupations for which they are well qualified. The site will also include information about salaries, apprenticeships, and other related education and training programs.

    Creating a Veterans Job Bank:Today, the Administration launched the Veterans Jobs Bank, at National Resource Directory (NRD.gov), an easy to use tool to help veterans find job postings from companies looking to hire them. It already searches over 500,000 job postings and continues to grow. Additionally, in a few easy steps, companies looking to hire veterans can make sure the job postings on their own websites are part of this Veterans Jobs Bank.

    I still believe that all Americans can agree that veterans shouldn’t have to fight for a job once they’ve come home from the fight overseas. While this Administration has been fighting for veterans every day, this week we will commemorate and celebrate Veterans Day. In that spirit, I hope Congress can come together and do the right thing by our nation’s veterans. Together, these initiatives and the tax credits will lower veteran unemployment by increasing hiring, improving resources for veterans to translate their military skills for the civilian workforce, and providing veterans with new tools to aid their search for jobs.

  • President Obama believes that American families should never be asked to choose between the health of their children and the health of the economy. That is a false choice. Four decades of success under the Clean Air Act have shown clearly that strong environmental protections and a strong economy can go hand in hand. 

    To build on the tremendous success of the Clean Air Act, the Obama Administration has taken the most significant steps in a generation to reduce harmful pollution and promote public health. The new standards that we have issued or proposed – to curb interstate pollution, reduce mercury exposure, and make our cars more fuel efficient, just to name a few – will result in significant economic and health benefits each year. 

    Just over forty years ago, the Senate did something that would be almost unthinkable today: It passed major legislation by a unanimous vote. That legislation was the Clean Air Act of 1970, signed by President Richard Nixon. Two decades later, the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 were passed, again with large bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress, and signed by President George H. W. Bush. 

    But today, Republicans in Congress are trying to use our current economic climate as an excuse to roll back clean air protections that Americans have counted on for decades. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is currently leading an effort to block the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) that would save tens of thousands of lives each year. In doing so, Senator Paul is using the Congressional Review Act to repeal this important rule and prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from protecting American families from cross-state pollution in the future. 

    Let’s be clear – this brazen effort doesn’t just undermine the public health, it also undermines the judgment of the courts. In 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington, D.C. Circuit found critical flaws in the Bush Administration’s efforts on interstate air pollution and directed the EPA to issue a replacement rule as quickly as possible. After seeking and incorporating extensive input from the public, the states, environmental and public health groups, as well as industry, the EPA finalized the Cross-State Air Pollution rule in July of this year. 

  • Speaking from the University of Pittsburgh, Vice President Biden argues that this month’s jobs numbers demonstrate that Congress should pass the American Jobs Act to strengthen our economy and create jobs right away.

    Transcript | Download mp4 | Download mp3

    Watch Vice President Biden's full remarks here

  • Vice President Biden in Pittsburgh Speaking About College Affordability

    Vice President Joe Biden answers questions after giving a speech on jobs and education at the University of Pittsburgh, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, November 4, 2011. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

    On Friday, Vice President Biden spoke to a group of students at the University of Pittsburgh. Making it easier to pay for college has been a top priority of the Middle Class Task Force and our entire Administration since the President and Vice President came into office. We stopped paying private lenders to act as middlemen for federal student loans, and invested the savings in student aid. We increased the maximum Pell Grant award by more than $800. And we created the American Opportunity Tax Credit to give students up to $10,000 over four years to help with tuition and other expenses.

    Today, the Vice President focused on our latest initiative – capping student loan payments. Current law allows borrowers to limit their federal loan payments to 15 percent of their discretionary income and forgives all remaining debt after 25 years, or 10 years for graduates working in public service jobs. Last year, following a recommendation from the Middle Class Task Force, the President proposed, and Congress enacted, a plan to lower payments even further starting in 2014. But many students can’t wait until 2014 for relief. So last Wednesday, the President announced an executive action that will cap federal loan payments at 10% of discretionary income and shorten the forgiveness timeline to 20 years starting next year

    We estimate that this new cap lower payments for 1.6 million borrowers, including 60,000 Pennsylvanians. Many of these borrowers will save hundreds of dollars every month. For example, a teacher with $25,000 in debt and a $30,000 salary would see her monthly payments drop from $287 under the standard repayment plan to $114 under the new cap. You can learn more about our plan to help students here.

  • Holiday for Heroes 2011

    On November 3, I attended a moving kickoff event for the Holiday Mail for Heroes program run by the American Red Cross and Pitney Bowes. This program now in its fifth year encourages all of us to send a holiday card to a service member this season. Making a card is a simple act of kindness that means the world to our soldiers and their families.

    In the Hall of the historic American Red Cross headquarters, I heard from several current and former members of the military who spoke poignantly about what it meant to receive a touch of home during the holiday season.  I was inspired to sign my own card and now want to make sure to let the American people know how they can participate in the program, too.

    If you'd like to make a hero feel special this holiday season, please consider sending a card to

    Holiday Mail For Heroes
    P.O. Box 5456
    Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456

    All cards must be postmarked no later than Friday, December 9.

    If you'd like to help us spread the word about this program, or to find tips for getting your friends, church members, scout troops, and family together to make and send cards together, the American Red Cross encourages you to visit their blog. Over the last four years, millions of cards have been sent to support our services members. By joining forces, our military will continue to get the support we all want them to feel this holiday season and throughout the year.

    Brad Cooper is the Executive Director of Joining Forces

  • Ed. Note: Cross-posted with the US Department of Agriculture blog.

    The U. S. Forest Service will waive fees honoring those brave men and women who have protected our country and nation’s lands during the long Veterans Day weekend November 11-13 at some recreation sites. This is the third time this year that fees have been waived to encourage visitors to come to a national forest.

    Fee waivers are a perfect opportunity for new and not-so-new visitors to get out onto our nation’s forests and grasslands to bike, hike, explore and more.

    Day-use fees will be waived at all standard amenity fee sites operated by the Forest Service. Concessionaire operated day-use sites may be included in the waiver if the permit holder wishes to participate.

    Fee waivers are offered in cooperation with other federal agencies under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act and were offered earlier this year on National Get Outdoors Day in June and National Public Lands Day in September.

    The Fee Waiver days support the goals of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Outside. The waiver is an incentive to encourage people to visit our nation’s forests and grasslands, which offer a wide range of recreation and educational benefits such as improved physical and mental health, emotional well being, a concern for nature and a conservation ethic.

    Traditionally, fees are not charged on 98 percent of national forests and grasslands and over two-thirds of developed recreation sites in national forests and grasslands can be used for free.  Many recreation opportunities such as camping, sightseeing and hiking can be enjoyed throughout the year at no cost.

    The Forest Service operates approximately 17,000 recreation sites nationwide. Of those, approximately 6,000 require recreation fees, which are used to provide visitor services, repairs and replacements, and facilities maintenance.

  • Earlier today, Dr. Jill Biden delivered a passionate and powerful address at the Opening Ceremony of the 2011 National Convention of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). 

    She began her remarks with an inspiring story:

    I recently read an open letter written from a PFLAG father to America’s youth.  He wrote, “My wife and I have two sons. We think that they are the best kids in the whole world. They’re very different, with very diverse personalities, talents, and interests. One of the other things that makes them different is that one is straight and one is gay. But the important thing is this: we love them equally.”

    At its core – it’s such a simple message – “we love our sons” – both of them. But that acceptance and support can make all the difference.

    And as you all know well – acceptance by those you love is the greatest acceptance of all. 

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