White House Rural Council Blog

  • From the Heartland to the Frontlines: Improving Security and Creating Jobs

    Yesterday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus signed a  Memorandum of Understanding between their departments to encourage the development of advanced biofuels and other renewable energy systems.  This agreement will simultaneously strengthen the economic recovery in rural America, creating new jobs and new industries that cannot be exported;  enhance our national security by decreasing our dependence on foreign oil; and address the challenge of climate change. 

    USDA and DON

    (left to right) Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack, U.S. Representative Mike McIntyre, and Secretary of the Navy the Honorable Ray Mabus address the media following a memorandum of understanding signing ceremony at the Pentagon. January 21, 2010. (by by U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin S. O'Brien)

    The Obama Administration has been engaged in these efforts since May 2009, when President Obama established the Biofuels Interagency Working Group, an effort to help coordinate efforts across the federal government to advance biofuels research and commercialization.  This agreement creates a strong partnership that promotes clean energy technologies and will help stimulate additional private investment and innovation to develop the next generation of biofuels.    In fiscal year 2008, the Navy alone consumed nearly 1.2 billion gallons of petroleum, predominantly in fuel for ships and aircraft.

    Read more about yesterday’s announcement.

    To demonstrate the potential of this partnership, the Marine Corps had on display a prototype Light Armored Vehicle or LAV.  The U.S. Army’s Tank and Automotive Command, has for the past 6 months conducted tests with biofuels in LAVs ranging in biofuel mixture level from 5%-30%.  The Department of the Navy is committed to testing biofuels for use in its aircraft, surface ships and tactical vehicles like LAVs.  The LAV-25A2 on display is mechanically the same as the LAV-25 operating in Afghanistan.

    Tony Russell is Communication Advisor for the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change.


  • Broadband Plan Shaking Up Communications at FCC

    Ed. Note: Cross-posted from the new Broadband.gov blog.

    I had always intended for the FCC’s work on the National Broadband Plan to be transparent and open to a wide variety of stakeholders including providers, public interest groups and citizens alike. This effort is too important to leave anyone out.

    I am pleased to see that the Commission’s work on the plan is already transforming the way we at the agency communicate with the public. Fittingly, we are using the power of the Internet to boost public participation in the plan through our blog, "Blogband," which is dedicated to the National Broadband Plan. The posts have given us an informal way to keep people up-to-date and engaged in the process. Importantly, the comments back have also been a catalyst for new thinking and creative solutions.

    We’re also using the Internet to give more people greater access to our workshops here at the Commission. In addition to the over 1,100 people who’ve so far attended the workshops in person, over 5,000 people have registered to view and participate in the workshops online. The workshops represent an unparalleled level of openness and participation in the Commission’s work.

    Inside the agency, we are hard at work processing the public input we are getting from our many workshops. The hours of discussion by workshop participants, along with comments that have already been filed at the FCC, have prompted us to draft new Public Notices about the plan. Over the coming weeks, you will see several of them issued. The new comments we receive will be filed in the official record for the plan. And of course, the transcripts that are being made of each workshop will also be part of the record.

    So, thank you for your comments to date and please keep them coming in the weeks ahead!

    Julius Genachowski is the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission

  • USDA Launches New Rural Tour Site, Ways to Stay Connected

    Today is a very exciting day. We rolled out a new Rural Tour web site to enhance public engagement and share information from the road. There has been such a positive reception to the Rural Tour events, we needed a new way to connect with individuals across the nation beyond the actual events.
    That's where new media comes in.
    It's much more than sending a tweet or feeding blog content through Facebook. We’re interested in sharing information beyond traditonal press releases and finding out what people have to say, as well.
    There are a few new features I’m particularly excited about on the Rural Tour site.
    • Join the Conversation – Although we’d like to, we can’t visit every state and every town. Whether we make it to your town or not, this is the place to make your voice heard.
    • What’s Working – Beyond Recovery Act reports, there are important stories to tell about what the USDA is doing in communities across the nation. This is the place to a sample of what’s happening.
    • Stay Connected – We’re offering new ways for people to stay up to date with the Department and the tour.
    On Flickr, we’re starting out with a Rural Tour collection but will soon be adding the best of the best from our expansive photo collection. Soon visitors will find photos of animals, forests, research and everything in between. Our YouTube page is growing, as well. We also have a Facebook fan pagefor people to connect with USDA.
    With more than 100,000 employees and 7,000 offices worldwide, there is always something new to see and learn from the Department. Check it out and stay tuned, there will be more to come.
    We hope that these tools are useful and you learn something new, lend your voice and stay connected.
    Amanda Eamich is Director of New Media (acting) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture

  • Cabinet Officials Continue to Tour Rural America

    The Rural Tour is continuing this week, as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood head to Wisconsin today to talk about economic development.  As you may remember, Secretary Vilsack is leading the Rural Tour to travel to rural communities, listen to residents and get their thoughts on recovery.  The aim is to come up with the best solutions for community challenges, and let residents know how the federal government can assist them.
    On Saturday, Secretary Vilsack will be joined by Energy Secretary Stephen Chu in Virginia.  They will discuss carbon sequestration and weatherization as part of the President’s plan to create green jobs and focus on clean energy.  The Recovery Act is allocating $4.8 billion to install insulation, fix heating and cooling systems and other repairs, to help make homes more energy-efficient.  These funds will weatherize 1 million homes, which will help lower utility bills for struggling families, and provide construction jobs.  
    On Monday, the tour continues in Louisiana, where Secretary Vilsack will be joined by Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to discuss rural health.  Health and Human Services has been awarding Recovery Act Capital Improvement Program (CIP) grants to rural health centers across America to repair and renovation facilities.
    Head over to the Rural Tour blog where you can read stories from the tour, and post your thoughts.

    Update: At the event in Wisconsin today, Secretary Vilsack and Secretary LaHood highlighted the importance of investing in both physical infrastructure, like roads and bridges, as well as expanding broadband infrastructure in rural areas.  They also discussed Recovery Act efforts underway in Wisconsin, where $375 million is available for transportation projects. The Recovery Act provides $34 million for new clean-fuel buses, vans and other equipment to improve mobility for those living in rural areas. You can read more about the event, as well as Recovery Act projects in Wisconsin, here.


  • Strengthening Rural Communities: USDA Kicks Off Rural Tour

    Cross-posted from the Department of Agriculture's new Rural Tour Blog.

    The President announced yesterday that I will be leading the Administration's rural tour, which will be visiting rural communities across the country over the coming weeks and months. At each event I will try to provide information about how the USDA and the Obama Administration are affecting the lives of rural Americans.

    And just as importantly, I want to listen to the thoughts, concerns and stories about each community’s vision for its future. We will collect ideas about how the USDA could be better serving these communities.

    To help people across the country follow our progress on the Rural Tour, we are launching a new Rural Tour Web site to chronicle the sights, stories and activities of all the communities we visit over the course of the tour. The site will include a blog, videos and photos, RSS feeds, and other interactive tools so that folks across the country can participate by sharing stories and providing feedback about how the efforts of the USDA and the Obama Administration are making a difference in strengthening America’s rural communities. For those that want to follow the tour, we will be twittering live from our Rural Tour events and also sharing news and information along the way.

    We hope to see you at one of our stops or hear from you on our Web site!

    Tom Vilsack is the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

    Ed. Addition: White House photos of Vice President Biden kicking off the Rural Tour.  He was joined today by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski and Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper in annoucning the availability of $4 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act loans and grants to help bring broadband service to un-served and underserved communities across America.

    Vice President Biden kicks off the rural tour
    (Vice President Joe Biden speaks at an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act event on broadband investments in Erie, Pennsylvania, Wednesday, July 1, 2009.  The Vice President announced the availability of $4 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act loans and grants to help bring broadband service to un-served and underserved communities across America. Official White House Photo by David Lienemann.)
    Vice President Biden kicks off the rural tour
    (Vice President Joe Biden answers a question from the audience at an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act event on broadband investments in Erie, Pennsylvania, Wednesday, July 1, 2009.  The Vice President announced the availability of $4 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act loans and grants to help bring broadband service to un-served and underserved communities across America. Official White House Photo by David Lienemann.)

  • Live-Blog: Regional Forum on Health Reform, Des Moines

    Rebecca Adelman of the Department of Health and Human Services gives us a play-by-play on the third of five White House Regional Forums on Health Reform, watch it streamed livefrom Des Moines, Iowa at HealthReform.gov.

    1:27: Governor Culver thanks the audience for their spirited participation and encourages people to continue the discussion by visiting www.healthreform.gov. He also thanks President Obama for his commitment to health reform. He said, on every front, the President and his team have been extremely responsive.

    1:23: Nancy-Ann DeParle closes the event promising to brief her colleagues in the White House on the suggestions and concerns brought up in the forum today. She urged participants to visit www.healthreform.gov to submit more suggestions, and said "I have a lot to be optimistic about as I go back to the White house." She says she heard frustration from small business, farmers, providers that premiums are out of reach. She also says she heard the desire of clinicians to be at the table, to break down the barriers that exist to providing care, and she heard intelligent advocates from all different angles today. Finally, she expressed hope that everyone will continue to provide input as we work to lower costs and cover more Americans.

    1:18: Senator Harkin makes his closing remarks and talks about how members of Congress are working to make health reform happen this year. He said they are setting deadlines, and hope to have a bill on the floor in late June to debate it in July. He said his goal, and the President is pushing very hard on this, is to get this done in Congress before the August recess, and to have a bill to the President in September or October. "We are not going to kick the ball down the field," he said. "This is going to happen this year."

    1:10: A gentleman with a "Livestrong" t-shirt wraps up the discussion talking about cancer. He asks for a show of hands of how many participants have been touched by cancer in their own families or personally, and nearly 100 percent of those in the room raised their hands. He said we need to continue to keep this very important issue part of the national discussion about health care. 

    1:02: Responding to the question proposed by Governor Rounds about rural health, a participant brought up the importance of long-term care providers in rural communities. This participant said he came from a rural area, and many people there just want to stay in their homes and communities. He said if we pay greater attention to the importance of long-term care providers, and if we invest in them, people in rural communities will visit hospitals less frequently and fewer citizens will need to live in expensive nursing homes.

    12:55: Governor Rounds takes a few minutes to speak about the challenge of attracting doctors and nurses to serve in rural communities. He said the demand for medical professionals in rural areas is so great that each provider is stretched thin, making it even more difficult to maintain a workforce of doctors and nurses. He asked the participants for suggestions on how to attract medical professionals to rural areas, and how to support them once they establish a practice. The Governor said we need a plan to bring good medical services to rural Americans. 

    12:41: A participant named Tracey brought up the cost of treating chronic diseases. She suggested that the health system reform include a focus on primary and secondary prevention. She said it is crucially important to think about how to keep the well healthy, to identify the at-risk individuals, and to help the chronically ill manage their conditions to keep the costs for treating these illnesses down.

    12:30: Governor Culver reads a question from Audrey Wiedemeier, a resident of Iowa City who submitted her question online at www.healthreform.gov. She asked, "What is being done to address the fact that many low income communities don’t have access to affordable fresh healthy food?" Governor Culver and Senator Harkin discuss at length what prevention methods we could employ that would be accessible to Americans of all income brackets. Senator Harkin argues in particular that we need to rethink what food options kids have in schools to start prevention early in life . 

    12:20: A chiropractor brings up the issue of electronic medical records. He says the adoption of that technology could save $77 billion annually. Now that $19.5 billion has been put forth in the Recovery Act for Health Information technology, we must think about how to make that transition. He urges that an important question in the health reform effort is how can we use technology to drive best practices and efficiency.  

    12:10: After Darlyne Neff addresses the group, Governor Culver turns the microphone over to the participants in the audience. A small businessman from Iowa speaks first, and stresses the particular difficulties that small businesses face as they strive to insure their employees when health care costs are skyrocketing. A woman who was recently laid off from her job said she is not sure how she will get insurance, but hopes her former employer will be able to provider her with health insurance with the help of money from the Recovery Act.  Later, a man named Bruce from Iowa brought up the fact that people between the ages of 50 and 64 are among the fastest growing group of uninsured Americans. Nancy-Ann DeParle said it is an issue the President is very aware of, and that solutions are being discussed.

    11:55: Darlyne Neff, from Iowa City, Iowa addressed the assembled group after Nancy-Ann DeParle. Neff is a 75-year-old retired teacher living in a life-care residential community. She taught kindergarten, grade school, and speech at the junior high and community college level. She said if she could go back to teaching now she would stress with her students the importance of listening to their bodies and would try to impress upon them the importance of health and wellness. Darlyne was one of 30,000 Americans who participated in health care reform community discussions over the holidays. She said she has survived operations for breast cancer and a brain tumor, and when she heard that the President’s health care team was seeking input from Americans on how to reform the health care system, she thought, "this is something I really need to do." 
    11:45: White House Office of Health Reform Director Nancy-Ann DeParle addressed and thanked the participants next – she especially singled out the clinicians she met in the audience, who are on the front lines of this health care reform effort. She spoke about the first forum on health reform that brought together Democrats, Republicans, insurance executives, providers and everyday Americans at the White House to begin the discussion. These regional forums, she said, are a continuation of that discussion.

    11:40: South Dakota Governor Rounds addressed the group next. He said that in South Dakota, the pressing concern is how to provide the best possible care in small, rural communities. 9 percent of South Dakotans are uninsured. Governor Rounds said, "We can do better…and we must not leave out rural areas."

    11:34: Senator Harkin just addressed the group – he stressed that we urgently need to change the health care system. The Senator said, "the good news is, we have a President who gets it." He urged the incorporation of prevention measures in to the health system, so that we can transform our system from a sick-care system to a health care system.

    11:25: Governor Culver welcomes the group and thanks President Obama for his commitment to tackling the "national challenge" that is health care reform. He says he hopes the discussion today can provide some useful input for the President and his health care team (since the Transition, that team has been exceptional in listening carefully and turning the input they get into serious points and data to inform policy-making). Two Iowa lawmakers - Congressman Leonard Boswell and Senator Tom Harkin, are next up to speak.

    11:15: Governor Culver kicks off the forum with a video message from President Obama. The President thanks the group for participating and says he looks forward to hearing about the concerns and ideas raised at the forum today. For background, the regional forums were designed to bring everyone with a stake in the health reform debate together, not just in Washington but across the country where people deal with the realities of health care every day, not just the policy analysis and politics of it. Forums in Dearborn, Michigan and Burlington, Vermont were held over the last two weeks, and two more health reform discussions in Greensboro, North Carolina and Los Angeles, California are coming up.

    11:05: The third Regional White House Forum on Health Reform just began in Des Moines, Iowa. Today’s event is coming to you live from the Polk County Convention Center (which was also home to the Iowa Caucuses in 2008) Thomas Newton, the Director of the Iowa Department of Public Health just began his opening remarks to the forum, welcoming the participants. It will be moderated by Governor Chet Culver of Iowa and Governor Mike Rounds of South Dakota, with Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office on Health Reform, representing the White House.