Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Message for the New Year from the President

A Message for the New Year from the President
Posted by Jesse Lee on December 31, 2009 at 04:00 PM EST
The President offers his best wishes for the New Year, recorded on December 22nd before he left Washington:

Good evening. Tonight, as Americans across the country gather with family and friends, I want to wish everyone a happy and healthy New Year.

This is always a hopeful time, as we celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of another. And while 2009 was difficult for many Americans, we must also look back on this year with the knowledge that brighter days are ahead of us – that although our challenges are great, each of us has the courage and determination to rise up and meet them.

It is that spirit that has kept the American Dream alive for generations, and it is that spirit that will keep it alive for generations to come. Happy New Year, everyone.

En Español:

Saludos a todos. Esta noche que estadounidenses en todo el país se están reuniendo con familiares y amigos, quiero desearles a todos un feliz Año Nuevo, lleno de salud.

Éste siempre es un periodo de optimismo, ya que celebramos el final de un año y el inicio de otro. Y aunque el 2009 fue difícil para muchos estadounidenses, debemos también ver este año pasado con la certeza de que tendremos días mejores por delante – que a pesar de que los retos son grandes, cada uno de nosotros tiene la valentía y la determinación para enfrentarlos.

Es ese espíritu el que ha mantenido vivo el Sueño Americano generación tras generación, y es ese espíritu el que lo mantendrá vivo en generaciones futuras. Feliz Año Nuevo a todos.

An Authorization and Waiver for John Brennan

An Authorization and Waiver for John Brennan
Posted by Norm Eisen on December 30, 2009 at 06:04 PM EST
We are posting our written authorization and waiver under the ethics rules to John Brennan to participate in the reviews of the attempted bombing of Northwest flight 253. John is the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. By virtue of his long experience in government and the private sector, John brings a unique mixture of know-how and understanding to this assignment.

The applicable ethics rules recognize that under the circumstances set forth in the attached memo, counsel should review the matter and authorize the official to proceed with the assignment where the public interest so requires. That is particularly true where, as here, national security concerns are implicated. We have done that analysis and have determined that, as set out in the authorization and waiver, it is in the public interest for John to proceed.

Norm Eisen is special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Same Old Washington Blame Game

The Same Old Washington Blame Game
Posted by Dan Pfeiffer on December 30, 2009 at 03:34 PM EST
There has been a lot of discussion online and in the mainstream media about our response to various critics of the President, specifically former Vice President Cheney, who have been coming out of the woodwork since the incident on Christmas Day. I think we all agree that there should be honest debate about these issues, but it is telling that Vice President Cheney and others seem to be more focused on criticizing the Administration than condemning the attackers. Unfortunately too many are engaged in the typical Washington game of pointing fingers and making political hay, instead of working together to find solutions to make our country safer.

First, it’s important that the substantive context be clear: for seven years after 9/11, while our national security was overwhelmingly focused on Iraq – a country that had no al Qaeda presence before our invasion – Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda's leadership was able to set up camp in the border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan, where they continued to plot attacks against the United States. Meanwhile, al Qaeda also regenerated in places like Yemen and Somalia, establishing new safe-havens that have grown over a period of years. It was President Obama who finally implemented a strategy of winding down the war in Iraq, and actually focusing our resources on the war against al Qaeda – more than doubling our troops in Afghanistan, and building partnerships to target al Qaeda’s safe-havens in Yemen and Somalia. And in less than one year, we have already seen many al Qaeda leaders taken out, our alliances strengthened, and the pressure on al Qaeda increased worldwide.

To put it simply: this President is not interested in bellicose rhetoric, he is focused on action. Seven years of bellicose rhetoric failed to reduce the threat from al Qaeda and succeeded in dividing this country. And it seems strangely off-key now, at a time when our country is under attack, for the architect of those policies to be attacking the President.

Second, the former Vice President makes the clearly untrue claim that the President – who is this nation’s Commander-in-Chief – needs to realize we are at War. I don’t think anyone realizes this very hard reality more than President Obama. In his inaugural, the President said “our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.” In a recent speech, Assistant to the President for Terrorism and Homeland Security John Brennan said “Instead, as the president has made clear, we are at war with al-Qaida, which attacked us on 9/11 and killed 3,000 people. We are at war with its violent extremist allies who seek to carry on al-Qaida’s murderous agenda. These are the terrorists we will destroy; these are the extremists we will defeat.” At West Point, the President told the nation why it was “in our vital national interest” to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to fight the war in Afghanistan, adding that as Commander in Chief, “I see firsthand the terrible wages of war.” And at Oslo, in accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, the President said, “We are at war, and I am responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land.”

There are numerous other such public statements that explicitly state we are at war. The difference is this: President Obama doesn’t need to beat his chest to prove it, and – unlike the last Administration – we are not at war with a tactic (“terrorism”), we at war with something that is tangible: al Qaeda and its violent extremist allies. And we will prosecute that war as long as the American people are endangered.

Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director

More than 25,000 Additional White House Visitor Records Posted Online

More than 25,000 Additional White House Visitor Records Posted Online
Posted by Norm Eisen on December 30, 2009 at 12:36 PM EST
President Obama ordered earlier this year that in December the White House would -- for the first time in history -- begin posting White House visitor records as provided in our new voluntary disclosure policy. Today we are delivering on that commitment by posting more than 25,000 records created between Sept 16 and Sept 30. The volume is enormous because we are not just answering specific requests for records -- we are disclosing thousands of folks who come and go here daily. We will do this on a monthly basis, with the records for the full month of October being posted in 30 days.

This release represents a milestone in the President's commitment to change Washington. The President believes that this and our many other transparency initiatives promote accountability and keep American democracy vital.

We are excited about the visitor records policy not only because we are breaking new ground for this Administration but also because we are establishing a new standard for all future administrations. We know of no comparable initiative in the history of the White House. Indeed, previous Administrations fought for years to protect just a handful of records -- far less than we are putting out for any single day of the month.

Today’s release also includes visitor information for the Vice President and his staff at the White House Complex. Consistent with the voluntary disclosure policy, the Office of the Vice President is releasing the names and dates of visitors to the Vice President’s Residence for official events between Sept 16 and Sept 30, and the visitors to the Residence who appear on the daily schedules of the Vice President and Dr. Biden. At this time, it is not possible to release visitor information for the Vice President’s Residence in an identical format to the White House Complex because the Residence is not equipped with the WAVES system that is in place at the White House Complex. The Vice President’s staff is working with the Secret Service to upgrade the visitor records system at the Residence. When the electronic update is complete, visitor information for the White House Complex and the Residence will be released in a common format.

In addition, we are also today releasing close to 2,000 pre-Sept 16 records in response to specific requests. As part of our new initiative, we offered to look back at the records created before the announcement of the policy and answer specific requests for visitor records created earlier in the year. Today’s production of records is in response to nearly 700 requests from the public during the month of November. Those requests have yielded close to 2000 responsive records that span the time period between January 20, 2009 and September 15, 2009. All of these have been added to the online database of published visitor records in an accessible, searchable format for anyone to browse or download.

Today’s release builds upon the previous series of visitor record disclosures. In October the White House released close to 500 records in response to 110 requests that were received throughout September. In November, the White House released 1,600 records in response to nearly 300 individual requests received from the public in October. You can view them all here.

As you review this month’s release you will notice that the records presentation is slightly different. Thanks to many of your suggestions, we have made some improvements that will hopefully make this information easier to use. However, the raw data remains the same and you can access that information by downloading the csv file in full.

Today’s release is only one example of the many steps the President has taken to increase government transparency over the past year. This Administration’s concrete commitments to openness include issuing the Open Government Directive, putting up more government information than ever before on and, reforming the government’s FOIA processes, providing on-line access to White House staff financial reports and salaries along with the President and Vice President’s tax returns, adopting a tough new state secrets policy, taking steps to improve policies concerning controlled unclassified information, reversing an executive order that could have previously limited access to presidential records, issuing an executive order to speed declassification and reduce over-classification, reaching an accord to restore White House emails from the previous Administration and webcasting White House meetings and conferences. The release also compliments our new lobbying rules, which in addition to closing the revolving door for lobbyists who work in government have also emphasized expanding disclosure of lobbyist contacts with the government.

As before, some of the most frequent White House visitors in today's release are Administration officials who come to the White House as part of their daily work. For example, Matthew Yale and Doug O’Brien both visit the White House frequently as part of their agency responsibilities.

Also, as we have previously noted, sometimes rather than providing clear information, transparency can have confusing or amusing results. Given the significant number of visitors to the White House, many visitors share the same name. Today's release includes the names of some notable figures (for example, yet another William Ayers record appears in this disclosure). The well-known individual with that name has not visited the White House, but we have included the record of the individual that did.

Lastly, we are still processing a small set of the September records to ensure that their release will not compromise national security. We expect to conclude this review shortly and will release any additional records with next month’s posting.

Happy New Year!

Norm Eisen is Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform

Checking in on the Community Job Forums: Mayors Stand Up

Checking in on the Community Job Forums: Mayors Stand Up
Posted by Jesse Lee on December 30, 2009 at 12:17 PM EST
Ever since the President's Jobs Forum on December 3rd, and his tour of Allentown, PA the next day, we’ve been hearing back from local officials and citizens who signed up to host community jobs forums all over the country. You can still sign up and hold your own by January 7th -- we'll send you the materials you need and we'll be compiling the feedback into a report for the President.

Here’s a sample of how some of America’s mayors have been giving voice to their communities...

From the Business Journal in Fresno, CA:

Nearly every link of the economic chain was present to discuss employment and growth at Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s community job summit Thursday afternoon. Topics ranged from job training to small business funding as those in attendance shared their observations and opinions about how to invigorate the local economy, where Fresno County's unemployment spiked to 15.8 percent in October. Swearengin said specific recommendations from the summit will be sent to Washington where they could become part of an immediate set of economic stimulus proposals. The recommendations are expected to include a request for greater funding for job training and education programs in fields that are lacking local, qualified workers. Education was also a hot topic at the White House jobs forum that Swearengin attended last week. She said access to risk capital and creating public infrastructure that supports economic growth also dominated the discussions.

From the Buffalo News in New York:

About 200 representatives from local business, government, organized labor and community-based organizations gathered Wednesday in Buffalo Niagara Convention Center for a conversation about creating jobs and boosting the local economy. The forum was arranged by Mayor Byron W. Brown as a vehicle to cull ideas to enhance economic development locally — suggestions that will be transmitted to federal leaders in Washington, D. C. “Last week, the White House office asked me, along with other mayors across the country, to convene a local forum on jobs and economic growth as a way to reinforce the message that President Obama delivered [on Dec. 3] at a forum on jobs and economic growth,” Brown said during his introductory remarks to the forum.

From WQAD in Davenport, IA:

Summoned by the White House, business leaders are calling on government investment to spark growth. St. Ambrose University is teaming up with Genesis Health System to build a new Health Sciences Education Center. It's an $11.5 million investment in the future. "We made the decision that in the teeth of the worst recession, we were going to go forward with this project," said Dr. Joan Lescinski, St. Ambrose president. A collaboration showing confidence in the local economy. It will boost employment in the short and long term.

From the San Antonio Express in Texas:

While San Antonio as a whole weathered the recession better than most major cities, Mayor Julián Castro noted during a jobs summit Wednesday that thousands of San Antonians took its punishment. “The number of folks who are able-bodied and looking for work in San Antonio is greater than the entire population of Alamo Heights, Balcones Heights and Windcrest,” said Castro, whose office arranged summit at the behest of the Obama administration. More than 50 local leaders from business, academia, labor and nonprofit agencies participated, as well as the mayor and City Council members.

In Corvallis, OR, the headline from the Gazette Times was “Ideas flow at mayor’s jobs forum”:

What would it take to get the economy rolling again? Nearly 30 people turned out Thursday evening to answer that question at a jobs forum led by Corvallis Mayor Charlie Tomlinson. The meeting was one of many taking place around the country as a follow-up to the national jobs summit hosted by President Obama on Dec. 3. Ideas gathered in the community forums will be forwarded to the White House for consideration. “I am convinced the White House is very interested in what Main Street is thinking, especially small business,” Tomlinson told the Corvallis group, which included business people, local government officials and aides to Congressmen Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader.

And last but never least, from Alaska via the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

Lowering the cost of energy would spur economic development in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, leaders in state government, municipal government and the business sector agreed on Wednesday. Some also called for more locally produced food, more job training and less government oversight. A manufacturing base would be nice, too, they said. About 50 people joined borough Mayor Luke Hopkins to discuss ways to put more people to work. The rate of unemployment in Fairbanks is 7.4 percent, according to the state Department of Labor. Nationally, it’s above 10 percent. Hopkins called the brainstorming meeting at the behest of President Barack Obama, who called on municipal mayors to help lower unemployment. Strategies from the meeting will be shaped into a report bound for the White House. Hopkins hopes to draw more federal assistance to Fairbanks. He wants to spend the hoped-for aid on stimulating small business, he said. If there was one overriding theme at the meeting, it’s that the high cost of energy in the Fairbanks area is stifling economic growth.

Opponents of Reform Cry "Repeal," Vow to Fight On for the Insurance Industry

Opponents of Reform Cry "Repeal," Vow to Fight On for the Insurance Industry
Posted by Dan Pfeiffer on December 30, 2009 at 06:00 AM EST
Yesterday POLITICO reported that, before it even becomes law, opponents of health care reform – including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich – are already talking about repealing it. Certainly there is a fundamental disagreement here, since many opponents of reform – again including Gingrich – appear to think that insurance companies can do no wrong.

First, it does seem like another example of opposition at any cost to want to repeal a law before its even enacted.

Second, everyone should be very clear what is being called for here. At a time when insurance companies are finally about to be reined in, and when American families are finally about to be given control over their own health care, opponents of reform are advocating that insurance companies once again be allowed to run wild. Specifically, if they have their way.

•Insurance companies will once again be able to deny coverage to anyone with a pre-existing condition like diabetes, high blood pressure or asthma.
•Insurance companies will once again be able to drop coverage when you get sick and need it most.
•Insurance companies will once again be able to impose annual or lifetime caps on coverage and charge unlimited out-of-pocket expenses.
And here are some of the benefits that these opponents of reform would want to overturn:

•Make preventive care completely free – with no co-payments or deductibles.
•Provide tax credits to help small businesses and hard-working families afford quality coverage.
•Create a new insurance exchange – essentially a marketplace – where individuals and small businesses can compare cost and quality and shop for the plan that is right for them.
We’ve said it before here, but I’ll say it again: for President Obama, this isn’t about him or about the Democratic Party. It’s about solving a problem that we’ve talked about for decades – a crisis that is bankrupting American families, putting American companies out of business, and exploding our national deficit.

Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The President on Preliminary Findings Regarding the Attempted Terrorist Attack

The President on Preliminary Findings Regarding the Attempted Terrorist Attack
Posted by Jesse Lee on December 29, 2009 at 06:23 PM EST
Speaking at Kaneohe Bay Marine Base in Kaneohe, Hawaii, the President gave an update on the latest findings regarding the incident on the Christmas Day flight from Amsterdam to Detroit:

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Yesterday I updated the American people on the immediate steps we took -- the increased screening and security of air travel -- to keep our country safe in the wake of the attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day. And I announced two reviews -- a review of our terrorist watch list system and a review of our air travel screening, so we can find out what went wrong, fix it and prevent future attacks.

Those reviews began on Sunday and are now underway. Earlier today I issued the former [sic] guidelines for those reviews and directed that preliminary findings be provided to the White House by this Thursday. It's essential that we diagnose the problems quickly and deal with them immediately.

Now, the more comprehensive, formal reviews and recommendations for improvement will be completed in the coming weeks, and I'm committed to working with Congress and our intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security communities to take all necessary steps to protect the country.

I wanted to speak to the American people again today because some of this preliminary information that has surfaced in the last 24 hours raises some serious concerns. It's been widely reported that the father of the suspect in the Christmas incident warned U.S. officials in Africa about his son's extremist views. It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community, but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect's name on a no-fly list.

There appears to be other deficiencies as well. Even without this one report there were bits of information available within the intelligence community that could have and should have been pieced together. We've achieved much since 9/11 in terms of collecting information that relates to terrorists and potential terrorist attacks. But it's becoming clear that the system that has been in place for years now is not sufficiently up to date to take full advantage of the information we collect and the knowledge we have.

Had this critical information been shared it could have been compiled with other intelligence and a fuller, clearer picture of the suspect would have emerged. The warning signs would have triggered red flags and the suspect would have never been allowed to board that plane for America.

The professionalism of the men and women in our intelligence, counterterrorism and law enforcement and homeland security communities is extraordinary. They are some of the most hardworking, most dedicated Americans that I've ever met. In pursuit of our security here at home they risk their lives, day in and day out, in this country and around the world.

Few Americans see their work, but all Americans are safer because of their successes. They have targeted and taken out violent extremists, they have disrupted plots and saved countless American lives; they are making real and daily progress in our mission to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and other extremist networks around the world. And for this every American owes them a profound and lasting debt of gratitude.

Moreover, as Secretary Napolitano has said, once the suspect attempted to take down Flight 253 -- after his attempt it's clear that passengers and crew, our homeland security systems and our aviation security took all appropriate actions. But what's also clear is this: When our government has information on a known extremist and that information is not shared and acted upon as it should have been, so that this extremist boards a plane with dangerous explosives that could cost nearly 300 lives, a systemic failure has occurred. And I consider that totally unacceptable.

The reviews I've ordered will surely tell us more. But what already is apparent is that there was a mix of human and systemic failures that contributed to this potential catastrophic breach of security. We need to learn from this episode and act quickly to fix the flaws in our system, because our security is at stake and lives are at stake.

I fully understand that even when every person charged with ensuring our security does what they are trained to do, even when every system works exactly as intended there is still no one hundred percent guarantee of success. Yet, this should only compel us to work even harder, to be even more innovative and relentless in our efforts.

As President I will do everything in my power to support the men and women in intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security to make sure they've got the tools and resources they need to keep America safe. But it's also my job to ensure that our intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security systems and the people in them are working effectively and held accountable. I intend to fulfill that responsibility and insist on accountability at every level.

That's the spirit guiding our reviews into the attempted attack on Christmas Day. That's the spirit that will guide all our efforts in the days and years ahead.

Thank you very much.

Promoting Openness and Accountability by Making Classification a Two-Way Street

Promoting Openness and Accountability by Making Classification a Two-Way Street
Posted by William H. Leary on December 29, 2009 at 02:38 PM EST
President Obama has issued a new executive order on “Classified National Security Information” (the Order) that addresses the problem of over-classification in numerous ways and will allow researchers to gain timelier access to formerly classified records. Among the major changes are the following:

•It establishes a National Declassification Center at the National Archives to enable agency reviewers to perform collaborative declassification in accordance with priorities developed by the Archivist with input from the general public.
•For the first time, it establishes the principle that no records may remain classified indefinitely and provides enforceable deadlines for declassifying information exempted from automatic declassification at 25 years.
•For the first time, it requires agencies to conduct fundamental classification guidance reviews to ensure that classification guides are up-to-date and that they do not require unnecessary classification.
•It eliminates an Intelligence Community veto of certain decisions by the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel that was introduced in the Bush order.
While the Government must be able to prevent the public disclosure of information that would compromise the national security, a democratic government accountable to the people must be as transparent as possible and must not withhold information for self-serving reasons or simply to avoid embarrassment.

President Obama’s new Order strikes a careful balance between protecting essential secrets and ensuring the release of once sensitive information to the public as quickly and as fully as possible. It also comes after extensive online engagement with the public where more than 150 detailed and helpful comments from various stakeholders were received through the White House website.

This new Order replaces Executive Order 12958 that was issued by President Clinton in 1995 and later amended by President Bush in 2003. The President also issued a memorandum to heads of departments and agencies that directs additional steps agencies should take as they implement the Order.

On January 21, 2009, President Obama signed a memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies, calling for the Government to become more transparent and collaborative. In a May 27 memorandum, he directed the National Security Advisor to lead a review of EO 12958 and recommend revisions that improve transparency, openness, and interagency collaboration in the Government’s treatment of national security information. The May 27 memorandum identified six priorities for this review:

(i) establishing a National Declassification Center (NDC) to facilitate collaborative declassification review among government officials;
(ii) addressing the problem of over-classification;
(iii) facilitating the sharing of classified information among appropriate parties;
(iv) appropriately prohibiting reclassification of previously declassified material;
(v) specifying appropriate procedures for classification, safeguarding, accessibility, and declassification of information in the electronic environment; and
(vi) otherwise improving openness and transparency in the Government’s classification and declassification program, while affording necessary protection to the Government’s legitimate interests.

The new Order takes numerous steps to address the six priorities set forth in the President’s May 27 memorandum. First, the Order establishes the NDC within the National Archives to streamline declassification processes, facilitate quality-assurance measures, and implement standardized training regarding the declassification of records determined to have permanent historical value. The Archivist of the United States will develop priorities for declassification activities under the NDC’s purview, with input from the general public and after taking into account researcher interest and the likelihood of declassification.

Second, the Order takes steps to address the problem of over-classification. It greatly strengthens the requirements for training and oversight of all original classification authorities and the much larger number of derivative classifiers. It also directs that information not be classified (or be classified at a lower level) when “significant doubt” exists about the need to classify it. The new EO also tightens the standards for keeping information classified for more than 25 years.

Third, the Order facilitates greater sharing of classified information among appropriate parties, including State, local, and tribal governments. It calls for the greatest possible access to classified information by authorized persons. The Order also significantly modifies the “third agency rule” to permit re-dissemination of classified documents by receiving agencies without the approval of the originating agency, except when the originating agency has indicated on the documents that such prior approval is required.

Fourth, the Order significantly tightens restrictions on reclassification of information after its declassification and release under proper authority, particularly with respect to records that are in the legal custody of the National Archives. Fifth, the Order enhances the appropriate classification and declassification of electronic information by mandating the use of standardized electronic protocols and formats.

Finally, the new Order adopts a number of additional changes in standards, procedures, and deadlines designed to promote greater openness and transparency in the Federal Government’s classification and declassification programs. For example, it directs agencies to align their declassification activities with the priorities established by the NDC and strengthens the standards agencies must meet to exempt any record from automatic declassification at 25 years.

The Implementation Memorandum. The supplemental memorandum directs the heads of executive departments and agencies to take certain actions to implement more effectively the classification and declassification procedures established by the new Order. The memorandum instructs the Director of the Information Security Oversight Office to publish a periodic status report on agency implementation of the Order.

The memorandum also directs agencies, under the direction of the NDC, to take steps to eliminate the backlog of more than 400 million pages of accessioned Federal records previously subject to automatic declassification in order to permit public access to these records no later than December 31, 2013.

In addition, the memorandum stresses the principle that delegations of original classification authority must be held to the minimum necessary to implement the EO. These delegations should be made only to those individuals or positions with a demonstrable and continuing need to exercise original classification authority.
Lastly, in order to promote new technologies to support declassification, the memorandum directs the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence to support research to assist the NDC in addressing cross-agency challenges associated with declassification.

Here are some other changes in the executive order that advance the President’s agenda of greater openness and transparency:

1. Establish a National Declassification Center (NDC) – Section 3.7

•Establishes a National Declassification Center at the National Archives where agency reviewers will perform collaborative declassification review of archival records, under the administration of a Director appointed by the Archivist in consultation with his counterparts at the major national security departments.
•The general functions of the Center shall apply to all archival records, regardless of whether they have yet been accessioned into the National Archives, and all referral processing of accessioned records shall take place under the direction of the Center.
•Agencies will review archival records in accordance with priorities developed by the Archivist, with input from the general public, that take into account the level of researcher interest and the likelihood of declassification.
2. Take Effective Measures to Address the Problem of Over-Classification

•Provides that no information may remain classified indefinitely. Section 1.5(d)
•Emphasizes the requirement to identify describable damage to the national security before classifying information. Section 1.4
•Restores the presumption against classification and in favor of a lower level of classification in cases of “significant doubt.” Sections 1.1(b) and 1.2(c)
•Requires agencies to conduct fundamental classification guidance reviews to ensure that classification guides and other guidance reflect current conditions and to identify information that can be declassified. An unclassified version of a report on such reviews shall be made public by each agency. Section 1.9
•Mandates a review by all departments and agencies to ensure that delegations of original classification authority are as limited as possible. Presidential Memorandum
•Tightens the standards for keeping information classified for more than 25 years. Sections 3.3(b) and 3.3(h)
•Greatly strengthens requirements for the training of all original classification authorities (OCAs) and the much larger number of derivative classifiers. Sections 1.3(d) and 2.1(d)
•Adds a requirement to identify derivative classifiers by name or personal identifier on each document they derivatively classify. Section 2.1(b)(1)
•Mandates that agency self-inspection programs shall review original and derivative classification decisions and correct misclassification actions appropriately. Section 5.4(d)(4)
•Directs agency heads to establish an internal, secure capability to receive complaints regarding over-classification and to provide guidance to personnel. Section 5.4(d)(10)
3. Facilitate Greater Sharing of Classified Information Among Appropriate Parties

•Revises the Preamble to emphasize “the responsibility to provide information both within the government and to the American people.”
•Calls for maximum possible access to classified information by persons who meet standard criteria for access. Section 4.1(a)
•Calls for the greatest practicable use of standardized electronic protocols and formats in order to maximize the accessibility and safeguarding of classified electronic information. Section 4.1(f)
•Modifies the “third agency rule” to authorize re-dissemination of classified materials by third agencies, except in limited exceptional cases, without the approval of the originating agency. Section 4.1(i)
•Revises the definition of “need-to-know” to shift the focus to prospective recipients with a mission need for information rather than a determination made by “owners” of the information. Section 6.2(dd)
•Mandates the use of classified addendums or unclassified versions of documents whenever possible to facilitate greater information sharing. Section 1.6(g)
4. Appropriately Prohibit Reclassification of Information

•Prohibits the reclassification of information after its declassification and release under proper authority except when agencies can comply with significantly tightened restrictions, particularly regarding records that have been accessioned into the National Archives. Section 1.7(c)
5. Enhance Appropriate Classification and Declassification of Electronic Information

•Calls for the greatest possible use of standardized electronic protocols and formats. Section 4.1(f)
•Directs the NDC to develop solutions to challenges posed by electronic records, special media, and emerging technologies. Section 3.7(b)(5)
•Directs the linkage and effective utilization of existing databases and the use of new technologies to support declassification activities under the purview of the NDC. Section 3.7(b)(6)
•Calls for advanced research to identify ways of utilizing electronic technology to assist the NDC in addressing cross-agency challenges associated with declassification. Presidential Memorandum
6. Take Other Steps Necessary to Provide Greater Openness and Transparency in the Government’s Classification and Declassification Programs

•Sets deadlines for the declassification and release of an existing backlog of some 400 million pages of records previously subject to automatic declassification, which includes archival records related to military operations during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Presidential Memorandum
•Eliminates the Intelligence Community veto of declassification decisions made by the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) regarding intelligence sources and methods. Section 5.3(f)
•Strengthens the standards that agencies must meet to exempt any records from automatic declassification at 25 years. Section 3.3(h)
•Identifies with greater specificity information that can be exempted from automatic declassification because it relates to intelligence sources and methods or military war plans. Section 3.3(b)
•Requires specific deadlines for the declassification of information exempted from automatic declassification at 25 years and prohibits classification beyond 75 years except in extraordinary cases and as approved by ISCAP. Section 3.3(h)
•Directs that the review of third agency referrals subject to automatic declassification shall be performed in a prioritized manner determined by the NDC rather than according to a rigid schedule. Sections 3.3(d)(3), 3.7(b)(1), and 3.7(d)
•Directs agencies to consider final decisions of the ISCAP when making declassification decisions. Section 3.1(i)
•Provides guidance for the first time regarding the declassification of non-archival and non-record material. Section 3.1(h)
•Limits the time span of records that may be included in a single integral file block for declassification purposes. Section 6.1(v)
•Provides that no information may be excluded from automatic declassification based solely on the physical type of the document/record in which it is found. Section 3.1(g)
•Requires a review of previously approved file series exemptions. Section 3.3(c)(4)
William H. Leary is Special Adviser to the National Security Advisor and Senior Director for Records and Access Management, National Security Staff

Where the Road to Health Reform Began

Where the Road to Health Reform Began
Posted by Jen Cannistra on December 29, 2009 at 11:05 AM EST
About a year ago, those of us working on the Presidential Transition were taking the first steps on the road towards reforming our health care system under the Obama Administration. We knew that this wasn’t an academic issue or an issue just for the political scoreboards – we had to hear from the American people first on exactly what problems they were facing, and what they wanted to see changed.

And so in December 2008, we invited Americans across the country to host and participate in Health Care Community Discussions to talk about the problems they faced with the health care system and proposed solutions. Over 9,000 Americans in all 50 states and the District of Columbia signed up during the holiday season to host a Health Care Community Discussion, coming from every walk of life – patients, doctors, nurses, religious leaders, first responders, and small business owners. Robert from Indiana explained, “Our neighbors include a broad and diverse cross-section of America. Within a few miles we have steel mills, inner cities, suburbs, and farms...Our event will demonstrate…the level of understanding among Americans regarding the need for access [to health care] by all Americans, and ideas for achieving that goal.” Elizabeth from South Carolina noted that her discussion would “show everyone that even the true middle class is really struggling with this issue.” Across the country, over 30,000 friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers gathered in homes, offices, coffee shops, fire houses, universities, and community centers to discuss reforming our health care system.

After each Health Care Community Discussion, hosts were asked to submit the results of a Participant Survey as well as a report that summarized the group’s main concerns and suggestions. The health reform team and a group of dedicated volunteers read and analyzed 3,276 group reports, a process that was as rewarding and illuminating as it was time-consuming. When we held the White House Forum on Health Reform in March of this year, launching our push from the White House in earnest, President Obama received a final report on the Discussions: “Americans Speak on Health Reform: Report on Health Care Community Discussions.”

And now, as we move into the final stretch of this road towards the historic passage of health insurance reform, we wanted to take a look at how the legislation we’ve seen emerge from Congress addresses many of the concerns, questions, suggestions, and solutions we heard about a year ago.

Lacking Insurance Security
•From Tampa, Florida: “If a person loses their job, they are penalized twice: first, in losing their job and then by losing their health insurance.”
•From Wallingford, Connecticut: “Portability of health insurance should be a main goal because people change jobs often. The new health care system should allow people to access health care regardless of whether they are working.”
Health Insurance Reform Solution: Reform will ensure that Americans always have guaranteed choices of quality, affordable health insurance whether you lose your job, switch jobs, move, or get sick. With the new health insurance exchange, Americans can easily compare insurance plans, prices, and performance to decide which quality affordable insurance option is the right one.

Problems with Insurance Companies
•From Portland, Oregon: “We also felt strongly that the health care system in its current state is clearly NOT FOR US. It is not designed to benefit or help us. Who is it for? Who does it benefit? We suspect that the answer is big corporations, because none of us know any individuals who feel that the health care system really meets their needs. It’s bureaucratic, disempowering, overwhelming, confusing, and frustrating in more ways than we can list.”
•From Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: “The consensus was that the source of these problems is that health care is a for-profit system in which decisions about the type and amount of care are made mostly by insurance companies rather than by patients and care-givers.”
•From Chicago, Illinois: “The majority felt that the current health insurance system is too cumbersome with far too much money being spent on advertising, marketing, profits and administrative costs related to having to conform to non-standardized regulations, billing practices, and forms imposed by having to deal with such a large number of different insurance companies.”
Health Insurance Reform Solution: Reform will end insurer abuses, lower premiums, and hold insurance companies accountable. Insurance market reforms will prohibit abuses such as denying coverage for pre-existing conditions; charging exorbitant premiums based on gender, age, or health status; dropping coverage when people are sick; and imposing annual or lifetime limits on benefits. Insurers will be held accountable for excessive overhead costs fueled by unreasonable executive compensation and profits. And consumer rights will be enhanced by requiring all insurers to provide effective appeals procedures including outside, independent review of appeals. Read more about reform will help consumers here.

Denied Coverage because of a Pre-Existing Condition
•From Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin: “My mother is epileptic; she has been all of her life. This is not a choice she made, this is a condition...but because of her condition she is denied coverage. It’s not that she is just not covered for her epilepsy issues, she is denied for all her health concerns, prevention included.”
•From Missoula, Montana: “No mother should have to say her daughter is ‘uninsurable.’ We provide education to all children but not health care? It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
•From West Lafayette, Indiana: A couple described their son who survived Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at age 17. Now an adult, he “has trouble finding a job with insurance benefits, because of his previous disease, even though he has successfully recovered.”
•From North Brunswick, New Jersey: “People who have the pre-existing conditions are the ones who need the insurance the most yet most of their time is spent fighting with the insurance company on what is covered and what is not covered.”
Health Insurance Reform Solution: Insurance companies will no longer be able to deny or water down coverage because of a pre-existing condition. Affordable insurance coverage options will also be made immediately available through a high-risk pool for Americans who are uninsured and have a pre-existing condition. In the Senate bill, insurers will be prohibited from denying coverage to kids with pre-existing conditions six months after enactment. Read more about how reform will provide stability and security for all Americans here.

Charged More Because of Illness
•From San Antonio, Texas: “I work very hard but there is no way I can buy insurance for my family. My wife has severe rheumatoid arthritis and has had to many times go without treatments because I cannot pay for health insurance. She is too sick to be able to work. With her so sick, it makes it very expensive to buy any health insurance. What is a working man supposed to do?"
Health Insurance Reform Solution: Reform will end insurance discrimination that charges individuals more if they currently face or previously had any illness.

Overwhelmed by Out-of-Pocket Expenses
•From Greeley, Colorado: “One thing I want to make very clear is that I have good insurance and still the bills are out of control. I am one of the lucky people because I had $40,000 in savings when this cancer started.”
•From Madison, Wisconsin: “The middle class, however, often has insufficient coverage, high deductibles, high co-pays, and/or limited catastrophic coverage, leading to years of harassment by collection agencies and, in many cases, personal bankruptcy.”
Health Insurance Reform Solution: Reform will save families from financial ruin by placing a cap on what insurance companies can force individuals to pay in out-of-pocket expenses. As well, Americans will no longer face annual or lifetime benefit limits so that Americans can have the peace of mind that treatments they need will be provided.

Lacking Access to Health Care
•From Kingston, Rhode Island: “The central health care issue of our time is access to affordable, high quality primary care.”
•From Arlington, Texas: “If someone is sick, they should receive medical care, regardless of whether or not they can pay. If my daughter is in school and she’s sitting next to someone who is ill, but whose parents don’t have insurance so she’s not receiving the care she needs, then my daughter could contract her illness. I don’t want that. It’s not the kids’ fault. Everyone should be afforded health care.”
•From Milwaukee, Wisconsin: “If one has no health insurance, one does not go until problems are so bad they require a trip to the ER, which could have been avoided. In Wisconsin, care cannot be refused at an ER. So people wait and go to the ER, which is more expensive a service in general.”
•From Longmont, Colorado: A single mother with two teenage sons felt sick but continued working her two jobs to support her family. As described in the group report, “When [the mother] ended up in the emergency room, tests showed that her heart was so damaged by a virus that it only function[ed] at 30% of capacity….Her heart function is now only 25%.” In addition to the mother’s heart condition, her eldest son was diagnosed with bone cancer only when he was admitted to the emergency room after suffering from leg pain for “months.” Consequentially, as described in the group report, “A family that had been self sufficient is now destitute with two members suffering from life threatening illnesses which could have been alleviated with early health care.”
Health Insurance Reform Solution:Reform will give insurance coverage to over 30 million previously uninsured Americans and will provide refundable tax credits to make sure Americans can afford quality coverage. For those receiving this premium assistance, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that average premiums under reform will be significantly less than what they would have paid without reform. Read more about how health insurance reform will help make coverage more affordable for families here.

Caught by the "Donut Hole"

•From Greensboro, North Carolina: A group of health care workers met in a dentist’s office, where they discussed the story of a 76 year-old patient who had to pay $900 every month just for one medication “during the donut hole period…along with other out-of-pocket costs for the patient’s other meds.”
Health Insurance Reform Solution: Reform will close the coverage gap, or “donut hole,” in the Medicare Prescription Drug Program, dramatically lowering the cost of drugs for millions of seniors. Read more about how health insurance reform will benefit seniors here.

Expensive Early Retiree Premiums
•From Yelm, Washington: “[She] retired early from a large company. The company provides a very good retiree health care plan with the company covering a significant percentage of the premium cost based on the retiree years of service. For the bills that [she] sees, the health care costs paid to providers have not increased in the past 2 years, but the premium costs have increased significantly…If the premium costs continue to increase at the current annual rate, it would eat up most of their retirement savings just to pay health insurance premiums before they qualify for Medicare. The rate of increase of insurance premiums is out of control and they feel powerless to correct the problem. If health care insurance premiums continue to increase at more than 50% per year, they are considering dropping the good retiree health care plan to become uninsured until they qualify for Medicare.”
Health Insurance Reform Solution: Employers and their retirees between 55 and 64 years of age will have lower premiums from new financial assistance to employer health plans that cover early retirees, bringing down premiums by as much as $1,200 per family per year for some plans.

Small Business Burdens
•From Houston, Texas: “My son-in-law and daughter currently live in Spain because that’s where he can run his own small business. He had a business here in Houston, with three employees, young men. He insured them and it was cheap. But then he wanted to have a child, and the cost of insurance went through the roof. He couldn’t afford it for himself, much less his three employees. So he moved to Spain, where they take it for granted that healthcare is a right. He took my two grandchildren with him. This shows how our system is hamstringing our business development. How can you go out on a limb and start a new business when health care is a noose around your neck?”
•From Fort Wayne, Indiana: “[They] had premiums jump from $385 per month for three employees to more than $2,800 in four years. They were forced to drop coverage and have lost two key employees because of it.”
•From Ottawa County, Michigan: “I am the owner of a small IT company…and employ…3 people – all of which are single parents – and one of them is my son. The cost of employee health care is so great that I cannot afford to provide anything. Quotes obtained from the local companies who provide ‘deals’…are, in some cases, greater than the employees’ bi-weekly take home pay. Other quotes that are affordable don’t provide the coverage needed.”
Health Insurance Reform Solution: Small businesses pay three times the administrative costs of large businesses for health insurance. Health reform will create a health insurance exchange that will reduce administrative costs, enabling small businesses to easily and simply compare the prices, benefits, and performance of health plans. Reform will also provide tax credits to help small businesses provide health insurance for their employees, making health care significantly more affordable for small businesses and their workers. Read more about how health insurance reform will benefit small businesses here.

Struggling with Rising Health Care Costs
•From Enid, Oklahoma: “I have worked hard all my life as a farmer and in the energy sector. I have spent my life’s savings on [health care] and now I am refused care at our local hospital because I cannot pay. I may have to file [for] bankruptcy due to this.”
•From Fayetteville, North Carolina: “A single mother of two children remarked that her choice had become as basic as health insurance or food for her family.”
•From St. Joseph, Missouri: “Most of us are getting our letters from our insurance companies saying our unaffordable health care premiums are going up – Happy New Year! It happens every January without fail.”
•From New York City, New York: “We are middle-aged – [he] is in his 50s and I’m in my 40s so we are a long way off from Medicare!...Health insurance and Housing costs are now on par. Even worse: Our cost for coverage is just for two people (no kids) and does NOT include any kind of coverage for drugs. So if one of us gets into a situation with expensive drug treatment, it might very well take our life savings and our home.”
•From La Jolla, California: “People who are uninsured pay a non-negotiated rate for health care services; this is often many times higher than the rate paid by insured patients. This situation presents an almost insurmountable burden for unemployed people with no coverage.”
Health Insurance Reform Solution: There are numerous ways that reform will lower costs for Americans. Reform will create an “exchange” or marketplace for insurance competition that will lower administrative costs. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that such reforms will lower premiums of a comparable plan in the individual market by 7 to 10 percent – which means more money in the pockets of Americans, and the security of having high quality coverage. Reform will also lower health care costs by streamlining the health care system through reforms such as improving care coordination, reducing medical errors, and encouraging more efficient health plans. A recent Council of Economic Advisers report (pdf) estimates that these provisions could reduce the growth of health care costs by one percent, generating 320,000 jobs nationwide and raising median family income by $6,800 by 2030. And a recent Business Roundtable study found that with reform, health care costs could be reduced by as much as $3,000 per employee by 2019. Read more about how reform will lower health care costs and make health insurance more affordable in your state here.

Concerns about Fragmentation in the Health Care System
•From Gaithersburg, Maryland: “Fragmentation and lack of continuity of care create opportunities for medical error and redundant diagnostic and treatment efforts and associated costs.”
Health Insurance Reform Solution: Health insurance reform will invest in innovative models of care such as “patient-centered medical homes” and “accountable care organizations” that rely on teams of primary care doctors, specialists, and nurses working together to coordinate and monitor a patient’s care more effectively. These models are intended to encourage health care providers to better coordinate a patient’s care, track prescriptions, avoid duplication of treatments or tests, and follow a patient’s health progress. This will help improve quality of care, prevent medical complications, and reduce costs by keeping people healthier and out of the hospital, especially important for those with chronic medical conditions.

Concerns about Medical Malpractice
•From Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: “We have more medical schools in PA, yet fewer doctors. Graduating doctors leave PA because it is not a friendly state to practice in.”
•From Camano Island, Washington: A group noted that the “response to illness is sometimes more costly because the provider is concerned about a negligence lawsuit and either prescribes unnecessary treatment or orders excessive tests to avoid possible litigation in the future.”
•From rural Kentucky: A group at a public library talked about “concerns that you are safer outside of the hospital than in it, unless you have an advocate who can make sure the proper care is being given to a loved one.”
Health Insurance Reform Solution: In September, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum directing the Secretary of HHS to move forward with an initiative to give states and health systems the opportunity to apply for medical liability demonstration grants that put patient safety first and work to reduce preventable injuries; foster better communication between doctors and their patients; ensure that patients are compensated in a fair and timely manner for medical injuries, while also reducing the incidence of frivolous lawsuits; and reduce liability premiums. To encourage states to develop alternatives to traditional malpractice litigation, the House bill includes a voluntary state incentive grants program and the Senate bill includes state demonstration grants.

Inadequate Emphasis on Prevention
•From Nashville, Tennessee: “The system does not seem to have prevention and health as a goal. It seems to be about something else entirely.”
•From Rapid City, South Dakota: “There needs to be a new paradigm shift from disease care to prevention.”
•From Chesapeake, Virginia: The group agreed it was “costly to pay out-of-pocket for preventive health screenings.”
•From Augusta, Maine: A gathering of the Maine Medical Association expressed, “We have the best sick medicine care and not the best preventive care.”
•From Kirksville, Missouri: “There simply is no more pragmatic way to deal with the escalating cost of health care than to shift emphasis from spectacular attempts to deal with very advanced disease to prevention of disease in the first place.”
Health Insurance Reform Solution: Reform will require insurance plans to provide free preventive services and will create a system that manages illness and disease instead of just treating it when it’s too late.

Primary Care Physician Shortages
•From Bellingham, Washington: “We have a serious shortage of primary care providers – which includes physicians, nurse practitioners, and other qualified professionals.”
•From San Francisco, California: “[We] need more GPs/PCPs [general practitioners / primary care providers], so that they’re not overworked and have more time to spend with patients.”
Health Insurance Reform Solution: Reform will increase funding for grants, scholarships and loan repayments for physicians, nurses, dentists, mental health providers, and others. Reform will also provide loan repayment programs to encourage more nurse faculty to address the educational bottleneck in nursing, support programs to increase diversity in our workforce, invest in better workforce analysis so we know where more resources and providers are necessary, and provide payment bonuses to primary care providers practicing in underserved areas.

So that’s a sampling of how what we heard at the beginning of this road compares to what we’re seeing now at the end. And of course, America actually started down this road decades ago, and President Obama is simply the latest to get on the path after so many Presidents before him were pushed off. But more than anything, what we heard from the American people through the Health Care Community Discussions and throughout this past year is a reminder of how much this all means in the lives of millions of people, and how the problems they face aren’t just talking points, sound bites, or political arguments. It’s good to be reminded of that again.

Jen Cannistra is with the White House Office of Health Reform

Nancy Fichtner's SAVE Award Story

Nancy Fichtner's SAVE Award Story
Posted by Nancy Fichtner on December 29, 2009 at 10:53 AM EST

My invitation to the White House became the adventure of my life. I felt like a character out of the Mrs. Pollifax books.

With DC airports shutting down and December 21st being declared a snow day for Federal employees we had our challenges, but everyone pulled together and come Monday morning my children and I had an opportunity to meet President Obama and Secretary Shinseki.

First we arrived at the VA to meet with Secretary Shinseki. What a joy it was to meet him. We took our pictures with him, and he sat down and talked to us. He talked to my son about the military (my son Alex had his ROTC uniform on) and my daughter sang Amazing Grace for him. He was moved. So on to the White House, and meeting the President.

What a moment in time! I came into where the President was and he came and shook my hand. I was not nervous, just amazed that this was really happening. He just started talking to me about my family, the VA, my children and elk hunting. I had to tell him about Kasey Ann skinning and gutting her own elk and how on her last hunt she wore flip flops. He laughed. He was so very easy to talk to. He was genuine, such a nice and kind person.

We then went into a room filled with TV cameras and reporters. What an experience! The President talked about health care, the VA, my idea, and wanted to know where my children were in the room. He talked about my children being avid hunters. Afterwards, we then went into another room where the President met my children. He was very appreciative that Alex, my son, is going into the military. I told him Kasey Ann would sing for him. So he turned his ear to her and she sang Amazing Grace. What a great, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for her. He teased her about hunting in her flip flops! They laughed and enjoyed the fun of it. The day was over before we knew it.

This trip was a Christmas present beyond all. I still think it was a lot for a little idea, but it really will save a lot of money and I am so glad to be a part of it. I can’t wait to see my idea come full circle. Thank you to all the people that made this experience a reality for me and my family. Lasting memory: Kasey Ann is still talking about his handshake. She said he really knew how to shake your hand and hold onto it like he truly was interested in you and what you had to say.

Nancy Fichtner is a Fiscal Program Support Clerk at the Grand Junction, Colorado Veterans Affairs Medical Center. She was the winner of the first annual SAVE Award.

The President Addresses the Public on the Attempted Terrorist Attack

The President Addresses the Public on the Attempted Terrorist Attack
Posted by Macon Phillips on December 28, 2009 at 04:35 PM EST
Earlier today, the President addressed the public on the recent attempted terrorist attack:

Good morning, everybody. I wanted to take just a few minutes to update the American people on the attempted terrorist attack that occurred on Christmas Day and the steps we're taking to ensure the safety and security of the country.

The investigation's ongoing. And I spoke again this morning with Attorney General Eric Holder, the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, and my counterterrorism and homeland security adviser, John Brennan. I asked them to keep -- continue monitoring the situation to keep the American people and members of Congress informed.

Here's what we know so far: On Christmas Day, Northwest Airlines Flight 253 was en route from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Detroit. As the plane made its final approach to Detroit Metropolitan Airport, a passenger allegedly tried to ignite an explosive device on his body, setting off a fire.

Thanks to the quick and heroic actions of passengers and crew, the suspect was immediately subdued, the fire was put out, and the plane landed safely. The suspect is now in custody and has been charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft.

A full investigation has been launched into this attempted act of terrorism, and we will not rest until we find all who were involved and hold them accountable.

Now, this was a serious reminder of the dangers that we face and the nature of those who threaten our homeland. Had the suspect succeeded in bringing down that plane, it could have killed nearly 300 passengers and crew, innocent civilians preparing to celebrate the holidays with their families and friends.

The American people should be assured that we are doing everything in our power to keep you and your family safe and secure during this busy holiday season.

Since I was first notified of this incident, I've ordered the following actions to be taken to protect the American people and to secure air travel.

First, I directed that we take immediate steps to ensure the safety of the traveling public. We made sure that all flights still in the air were secure and could land safely. We immediately enhanced screening and security procedures for all flights, domestic and international. We added federal air marshals to flights entering and leaving the United States. And we're working closely in this country, federal, state and local law enforcement, with our international partners.

Second, I've ordered two important reviews, because it's absolutely critical that we learn from this incident and take the necessary measures to prevent future acts of terrorism.

The first review involves our watch list system, which our government has had in place for many years to identify known and suspected terrorists so that we can prevent their entry into the United States. Apparently the suspect in the Christmas incident was in this system, but not on a watch list, such as the so-called no-fly list. So I have ordered a thorough review, not only of how information related to the subject was handled, but of the overall watch list system and how it can be strengthened.

The second review will examine all screening policies, technologies and procedures related to air travel. We need to determine just how the suspect was able to bring dangerous explosives aboard an aircraft and what additional steps we can take to thwart future attacks.

Third, I've directed my national security team to keep up the pressure on those who would attack our country. We do not yet have all the answers about this latest attempt, but those who would slaughter innocent men, women and children must know that the United States will more -- do more than simply strengthen our defenses. We will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us, whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, or anywhere where they are plotting attacks against the U.S. homeland.

Finally, the American people should remain vigilant, but also be confident. Those plotting against us seek not only to undermine our security, but also the open society and the values that we cherish as Americans. This incident, like several that have preceded it, demonstrates that an alert and courageous citizenry are far more resilient than an isolated extremist.

As a nation, we will do everything in our power to protect our country. As Americans, we will never give in to fear or division. We will be guided by our hopes, our unity, and our deeply held values. That's who we are as Americans; that's what our brave men and women in uniform are standing up for as they spend the holidays in harm's way. And we will continue to do everything that we can to keep America safe in the new year and beyond.

President Obama Speaks Out on Iran Violence

President Obama Speaks Out on Iran Violence
Posted by Macon Phillips on December 28, 2009 at 04:34 PM EST
A violent Iranian government crackdown on protesters this weekend has reportedly resulted in multiple deaths, as well as the arrests of hundreds of demonstrators, including several political figures and human rights activists. The continued government suppression since the contested June presidential elections has drawn sharp international criticism. The United States will always bear witness for and stand by those in Iran, and around the world, who seek to exercise their universal human rights.

Read the President's latest remarks:

Before I leave, let me also briefly address the events that have taken place over the last few days in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The United States joins with the international community in strongly condemning the violent and unjust suppression of innocent Iranian citizens, which has apparently resulted in detentions, injuries, and even death.

For months, the Iranian people have sought nothing more than to exercise their universal rights. Each time they have done so, they have been met with the iron fist of brutality, even on solemn occasions and holy days. And each time that has happened, the world has watched with deep admiration for the courage and the conviction of the Iranian people who are part of Iran's great and enduring civilization.

What's taking place within Iran is not about the United States or any other country. It's about the Iranian people and their aspirations for justice and a better life for themselves. And the decision of Iran's leaders to govern through fear and tyranny will not succeed in making those aspirations go away.

As I said in Oslo, it's telling when governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation.

Along with all free nations, the United States stands with those who seek their universal rights. We call upon the Iranian government to abide by the international obligations that it has to respect the rights of its own people.

We call for the immediate release of all who have been unjustly detained within Iran. We will continue to bear witness to the extraordinary events that are taking place there. And I'm confident that history will be on the side of those who seek justice.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Inside the White House: The Marine Sentries

Inside the White House: The Marine Sentries
Posted by Jason Djang on December 28, 2009 at 01:00 PM EST
When I first started work at the White House last January, there were countless reminders that I was in a whole new world. Whether the oversized hallways and doors of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building or your boss coming and going in a massive helicopter in his backyard, this was unlike any workplace I'd ever seen. One of those fixtures that always reinforces the honor of this place is the lone Marine standing outside the West Wing. I would come to learn that there are actually four Marines who rotate in half hour shifts, standing sentry whenever the President is in the West Wing. Learn more about these Marines -- and the source of their ambivalence towards Christmas trees -- in the latest "Inside the White House" video.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Weekly Address: Celebrating Christmas and Honoring Those Who Serve

Weekly Address: Celebrating Christmas and Honoring Those Who Serve
Posted by Jesse Lee on December 24, 2009 at 06:00 PM EST
For the first time in a weekly address, the President is joined by the First Lady as they celebrate Christmas. They both honor those serving overseas, those who have sacrificed for their country, and the families that stand by them. Find ways to lend our troops and their families a hand through DOD’s Military Homefront,, and of course the USO.

Reality Check: For Opponents, It Was Never About the Bill

Reality Check: For Opponents, It Was Never About the Bill
Posted by Dan Pfeiffer on December 24, 2009 at 12:50 PM EST
Today’s Republican talking point of the day is that the historic health reform bill passed today represents the first major piece of social legislation to be passed without a single vote from across the aisle.

Well that may be true. But it’s not a commentary on this bill. It’s a commentary on the Republican Party, whose leaders made a determination that they were going to put party over progress. That's never happened before when the nation took on big challenges.

President Obama made it clear from the very beginning of this process that he wanted to work with members of both parties to craft the best bill possible. He even kicked off his efforts by inviting stakeholders from across the political spectrum to the White House to share ideas.

Contrary to what one Republican Senator said today, Democrats did not “do the HELP Committee bill completely Democrat” without “even ask[ing] one Republican opinion.” In fact, they accepted more than 150 Republican amendments.

In putting together the Finance Committee bill, Senator Baucus held months of bipartisan discussions. The Committee held a day-long bipartisan health care summit, convened three bipartisan roundtables, and even issued three bipartisan policy papers laying out the options from which the Committee chose to craft its bill.

Once the bill hit the Senate floor, Republicans passed up the chance to offer constructive amendments. Instead they chose to obstruct votes and offer six separate motions to essentially start from scratch.

The sad truth is that Congressional Republican leaders decided early on that their best move was to “delay, define, and derail” reform – not to find common ground on a bill both parties could support. They made clear their hopes that health insurance reform would be President Obama’s “Waterloo” and that it would “break him” politically.

In the process, they lost sight of the fact that this was never about President Obama – it was about the families struggling to keep up with skyrocketing premiums; the small businesses forced to choose covering employees and staying afloat; the 15,000 Americans who lost insurance every day this year. Today’s vote was a victory for them.

Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director

Another Tremendous Step Forward for Health Insurance Reform

Another Tremendous Step Forward for Health Insurance Reform
Posted by Jesse Lee on December 24, 2009 at 12:29 PM EST
Speaking in the State Dining Room, the President, joined by Vice President Biden, congratulated the Senate on its historic vote to pass health insurance reform.

The full transcript of the President's remarks is below:

Good morning, everybody. In a historic vote that took place this morning members of the Senate joined their colleagues in the House of Representatives to pass a landmark health insurance reform package -- legislation that brings us toward the end of a nearly century-long struggle to reform America’s health care system.

Ever since Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform in 1912, seven Presidents -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- have taken up the cause of reform. Time and time again, such efforts have been blocked by special interest lobbyists who’ve perpetuated a status quo that works better for the insurance industry than it does for the American people. But with passage of reform bills in both the House and the Senate, we are now finally poised to deliver on the promise of real, meaningful health insurance reform that will bring additional security and stability to the American people.

The reform bill that passed the Senate this morning, like the House bill, includes the toughest measures ever taken to hold the insurance industry accountable. Insurance companies will no longer be able to deny you coverage on the basis of a preexisting condition. They will no longer be able to drop your coverage when you get sick. No longer will you have to pay unlimited amounts out of your own pocket for the treatments you need. And you’ll be able to appeal unfair decisions by insurance companies to an independent party.

If this legislation becomes law, workers won’t have to worry about losing coverage if they lose or change jobs. Families will save on their premiums. Businesses that would see their costs rise if we do not act will save money now, and they will save money in the future. This bill will strengthen Medicare, and extend the life of the program. It will make coverage affordable for over 30 million Americans who do not have it -- 30 million Americans. And because it is paid for and curbs the waste and inefficiency in our health care system, this bill will help reduce our deficit by as much as $1.3 trillion in the coming decades, making it the largest deficit reduction plan in over a decade.

As I’ve said before, these are not small reforms; these are big reforms. If passed, this will be the most important piece of social policy since the Social Security Act in the 1930s, and the most important reform of our health care system since Medicare passed in the 1960s. And what makes it so important is not just its cost savings or its deficit reductions. It’s the impact reform will have on Americans who no longer have to go without a checkup or prescriptions that they need because they can’t afford them; on families who no longer have to worry that a single illness will send them into financial ruin; and on businesses that will no longer face exorbitant insurance rates that hamper their competitiveness. It’s the difference reform will make in the lives of the American people.

I want to commend Senator Harry Reid, extraordinary work that he did; Speaker Pelosi for her extraordinary leadership and dedication. Having passed reform bills in both the House and the Senate, we now have to take up the last and most important step and reach an agreement on a final reform bill that I can sign into law. And I look forward to working with members of Congress in both chambers over the coming weeks to do exactly that.

With today’s vote, we are now incredibly close to making health insurance reform a reality in this country. Our challenge, then, is to finish the job. We can't doom another generation of Americans to soaring costs and eroding coverage and exploding deficits. Instead we need to do what we were sent here to do and improve the lives of the people we serve. For the sake of our citizens, our economy, and our future, let’s make 2010 the year we finally reform health care in the United States of America.

Everybody, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year.

Q Do you have a holiday wish for the troops?

THE PRESIDENT: I do, and I will be actually -- I'm on my way right now to call a few of them and wish them Merry Christmas and to thank them for their extraordinary service as they're posted in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The First Lady Reads "The Night Before Christmas"

The First Lady Reads "The Night Before Christmas"
Posted by Jesse Lee on December 23, 2009 at 07:24 PM EST
First Lady Michelle Obama visits the Children's National Medical Center in Washington D.C. to read "The Night Before Christmas." Joined by daughters Malia and Sasha, along with dog Bo, the First Lady continues this tradition of visiting with patients which dates back to Bess Truman.