Read all posts from May 2013

  • Now that asteroid 1998 QE2 has safely flown by the Earth and Moon, we won’t have another close visit from this particular space rock for about 200 years.

    We the Geeks Asteroid Google Hangout

    Credit: NASA

    As part of the White House’s ongoing series of “We The Geeks” Google+ Hangouts (focused on highlighting science, technology, and innovation topics), we gathered some leaders in space exploration together for a pregame show to the near-miss of asteroid 1998 QE2.

    These experts included:

    More information about asteroids and near-Earth objects is available at:, and via Twitter at

    Ways to Get Involved

    There’s a competition for students and young professionals to share their most innovative ideas for a mission to an asteroid with the world's leading space experts. Check it out at:

    Have ideas for the next “We the Geeks”? Use the hashtag #WeTheGeeks on Twitter and on Google+ and let us know! Also, you can sign up to receive updates about future “We the Geeks” hangouts at

  • Watch the West Wing Week here.

    “You’ve met the mission”: President Obama spoke in Annapolis, Maryland last Friday to deliver the commencement address to the U.S. Naval Academy’s class of 2013. In his address, the President congratulated the graduates for taking their oath, and praised them for meeting the mission of the Academy and proving themselves morally, mentally, and physically.

    “So, Class of 2013, in your four years by the Bay, you’ve met every test before you. And today is the day that you’ve been counting down to for so long. You will take your oath. Those boards and gold bars will be placed on your shoulders. And as your Commander-in-Chief, I congratulate each of you on becoming our newest officers -- ensigns in the United States Navy, second lieutenants in the United States Marine Corps.  

    The Savoy School: Actress Kerry Washington joined First Lady Michelle Obama at the Savoy School in Washington, D.C. on Friday. The school was selected for the Turnaround Arts Initiative at the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities last year. While visiting, the First Lady played freeze dance and checked out art projects created by a fifth grade class.

    "When you work hard and you invest thousands of hours in anything, you get better.  And that’s what you guys are learning here at Savoy.  Hopefully you are learning that with your math, with your reading, with your dancing, with your singing, it's about the amount of effort that you want to put into anything."

  • Watch this video on YouTube

    Later today, Vice President Biden will return from Brazil, the final stop on a three-country trip focused on reinforcing partnerships in the Americas.

    During his visit, he delivered a speech in Rio de Janeiro about the promise of a strong U.S.-Brazil partnership. “President Obama and I believe that the times present an incredible opportunity for a new era of relations between the United States and the Americas,” the Vice President explained. “But none -- no partner is more significant in this endeavor than Brazil.”

    The United States and Brazil represent two of the largest, most innovative, dynamic economies in the world today. It is true both of us can continue to prosper whether or not we deepen our economic relations. But imagine, just imagine what these two dynamic economies could do with greater trade and investment for our people, for the hemisphere, for the world. 

    In addition to strengthening the economic relationship between our two countries, the Vice President also discussed other areas where we can work together, including energy, global development and people-to-people ties.

  • Household appliances – like refrigerators, washing machines, and televisions – are commonplace in our everyday lives, yet we rarely stop to think: how much energy are they using and at what cost?

    Consider this: the average household in the United States spends more than $2,000 each year on energy bills, with appliances accounting for a significant percentage of that total. To illustrate this point, the chart below shows how much energy a typical appliance uses per year and its corresponding cost.

    How Much Electricity Do Appliances Use?

    Source: Energy Department

    When we look at this chart, we see opportunity. We see great potential to reduce energy waste and lower utility bills for American families. That’s why President Obama has made energy efficiency a top priority for his Administration. For example, in his State of the Union Address this year, the President set a bold new goal: to cut in half the energy wasted in our homes and businesses over the next 20 years.

    Part of how we will achieve that goal is by making appliances more energy efficient. Not only will that help Americans keep more money in their pockets, it will also curb pollution and spark innovation that creates jobs and ultimately brings better products to the marketplace.

    That’s why we are proud to announce today that the Department of Energy has finalized new energy efficiency standards for microwaves, which will save consumers billions on their energy bills over the coming decades and prevent 38 million metric tons of carbon emissions – the equivalent of taking 12 million new cars off the road for one year. These standards will go into effect starting in 2016.

    Notably, the underlying analysis of these standards includes an update to the social cost of carbon values, which draw on the best available science to calculate the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as discussed in this year’s Economic Report of the President. The total net benefits of the new microwave standards, including the updated social cost of carbon, are up to $4.6 billion.

    Of course, this is just our latest step forward. During the President’s first term, by partnering with manufacturers and forging bipartisan support, the Administration established new appliance standards for nearly 40 different products. Taken together, they will save consumers close to $400 billion and reduce carbon emissions by 1.7 billion metric tons by 2030.

    Moving forward, we intend to build on this strong record of success. By advancing energy efficiency – in our homes, our businesses, and the transportation sector – we make real progress in promoting energy security and addressing global climate change.

    To learn more about choosing energy efficiency appliances for your home, click here

  • In September 2009, the President announced that—for the first time in history—White House visitor records would be made available to the public on an ongoing basis. Today’s release includes visitor records generated during the month of Feburary 2013. This release brings the total number of records made public by this White House to more than 3.2 million—all of which can be viewed in our Disclosures section.

    Ed. note: For more information, check out

  • Watch this video on YouTube

    This morning, when President Obama called on Congress to prevent federal student loan rates from doubling on July 1, he returned to a familiar theme.

    A year ago, we were in the same place -- just a few weeks out from seeing the average student with these loans racking up an additional $1,000 in debt.

    So speaking from the Rose Garden, the President discussed his long-term plan to keep student loan rates from doubling, and give students and their families certainty about college costs. He asked the students and young people in attendance to speak out in favor of action on college affordability, just as they did in 2012.

    "Last year, you convinced 186 Republicans in the House and 24 Republicans in the Senate to work with Democrats to keep student loan rates low," he said. "You made something bipartisan happen in this town that is -- that's a powerful thing. You guys were able to get Democrats and Republicans to vote for something that was important. So this year, if it looks like your representatives have changed their minds, you're going to have to call them up again or email them again or Tweet them again and ask them what happened, what changed?"

  • Today, the Medicare Trustees reported some good news for seniors and taxpayers: The Medicare program will be solvent through 2026, nearly a decade longer than projected at the time of passage of the Affordable Care Act. This is 2 years longer than projected last year. Their annual report also shows that the long run actuarial deficit in the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund – a measure of its long-term fiscal health – has been cut by more than 70 percent since enactment of the health care law. The long-run Medicare deficit has fallen from 3.88 percent of taxable payroll in the 2009 Trustees Report to 1.11 percent in this report.

    These long-run gains are matched by short-term relief: the Trustees also project that the Part B premium will not increase between 2013 and 2014, keeping out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries down. Medicare cost growth has remained at historically low levels over the past three years even as new benefits for preventive care and prescription drugs have helped tens of millions of beneficiaries access care at lower cost. The law reduces prescription drug costs by closing the donut hole, a policy that has already saved more than 6 million seniors more than $700 each. And more than 32 million seniors have accessed a free preventive service under the law, helping them stay healthy and avoid future illness.

  • This week, the President spoke to the graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy, traveled to Oklahoma and New Jersey to highlight recovery efforts, and honored Memorial Day with the First Lady at Arlington National Cemetery. 

  • Today, many Americans who buy health insurance on the individual market have only a few options to choose from when selecting an insurance company.  

    In fact, in 2012 just one or two different insurance companies dominated the individual insurance market in most states -- in 29 states, one insurer covered more than 50% of all enrollees in the individual insurance market.  In 11 states, the largest two issuers covered 85% or more of the individual market.

    But here’s the good news: the Affordable Care Act is helping to drive competition and choices for consumers by creating a Health Insurance Marketplace that offers people more choice and control over their insurance choices.

    A memo released today shows that, based on early reports, the Marketplace is attracting new insurance choices and increasing competition for consumers, all across the country.  In the states with early data, an estimated 80 percent of the people who will enroll in the Marketplace will have five or more different insurance companies to choose from, instead of just one or two.  On average, issuers plan to offer more than 15 qualified health plans per state, according to early reports.

  • In a little more than 30 days, interest rates on many new federal student loans are set to double – meaning college gets more expensive and more out of reach for millions of students and middle class families.

    Sound familiar? That’s because we did this last summer. Students all over the country told Congress “Don’t Double My Rate,” and President Obama worked with lawmakers to keep the student loan interest rate from doubling to 6.8 percent in July of last year.

    But now, absent further congressional action, the interest rate on new subsidized student loans is scheduled to go up again on July 1. To stop this from happening, President Obama put forward a long-term solution that cuts rates this year on nearly all new loans, ensures that all students have access to affordable repayment options, and does not charge students higher interest rate to pay for deficit reduction.

  • Watch this video on YouTube

    After stopping in Colombia on his three-country trip to reinforce partnerships in the Americas, Vice President Biden traveled to Trinidad and Tobago, where he met with President Carmona and Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar and participated in a meeting and working lunch with a number of other Caribbean leaders.

    In that series of meetings, leaders discussed regional efforts to promote economic growth, citizen security and energy, among other issues.

    “I'm here because President Obama wanted me to have an opportunity to dialogue with all of you and because our country is deeply invested and wants to become more deeply invested in a partnership with all the nations of the Caribbean,” the Vice President explained.

    Our search for growth, jobs and affordable supplies of energy, our fight against transnational crime, and the protection of our climate and our environment -- all of these issues, all of these issues have no respect for borders and they affect all of our borders. They directly affect the people of my country and each and every one of yours.

  • Last night, President Obama delivered remarks before over 200 members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community at a White House celebration of AAPI Heritage Month. The audience included national, state, and local community leaders; elected officials; leaders of philanthropic, youth, and arts organizations; and members of the President’s Administration, including Sri Srinivasan, who was recently confirmed unanimously by the Senate to become the first South Asian American federal appeals court judge.

    President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebration

    President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebration in the East Room of the White House, May 28, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

    In his remarks, the President highlighted the contributions of generations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who, in his words, “helped build this country, and helped to defend this country, and to make America what it is today.”  He said:

    We value these voices because from the very beginning, ours has been a nation of immigrants; a nation challenged and shaped and pushed ever forward by diverse perspectives and fresh thinking.  And in order to keep our edge and stay ahead in the global race, we need to figure out a way to fix our broken immigration system -- to welcome that infusion of newness, while still maintaining the enduring strength of our laws.  And the service and the leadership of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have proved that point time and again. 

  • Republicans in the Senate have made no secret of their efforts to block the President’s constitutional responsibility to appoint federal judges. They have filibustered unquestionably qualified nominees, like Caitlin Halligan. And their obstruction of the confirmation process kept several nominees waiting more than a year for a vote.  In fact, on average, our judicial nominees wait more than three times as long as those of President Bush after being approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee.  And for no good reason.  Earlier this year, four Circuit Court judges were confirmed by the Senate after waiting at least 250 days – even though each one was confirmed with overwhelming bipartisan support.            

    But now, Republicans are taking their attempts to manipulate the federal judiciary to an entirely new level. Right as our D.C. Circuit Court nominee Sri Srinivasan was confirmed unanimously, Republicans started pushing a proposal to reduce the number of judges on the D.C. Circuit from 11 to 8, a blatant attempt to shrink President Obama’s constitutional authority to fill this court. As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt learned when he tried to pack the Supreme Court, the three branches of government are coequal for a reason. Neither the executive branch or the legislative branch should use the third branch to a pursue a partisan agenda.

    And on the merits, Senator Grassley’s “court unpacking proposal” fails to make any sense. In fact, in 2005, the Senate – including Senator Grassley – voted to confirm Judge Janice Rogers Brown to the D.C. Circuit as the tenth active judge and Judge Thomas Griffith as the eleventh active judge.  In 2006, the Senate – again, including Senator Grassley – voted to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh as the tenth active judge. Voting for judicial nominees for court seats under one president while proposing to eliminate those same seats under the president of a different political party smacks of partisan politics.

  • Ed. Note: This is a cross post from the blog of You can find the original post here.

    First Lady Michelle Obama harvests vegetables with students

    First Lady Michelle Obama harvests vegetables with students in the White House Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn, May 28, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

    Today, a group of student helpers joined First Lady Michelle Obama for the summer White House kitchen garden harvest. For this harvest, the First Lady invited children from two New Jersey communities that were affected by Hurricane Sandy and invited back all the children who helped plant the garden in April so they could see the fruits of their labors. First Lady Michelle Obama and the students got their hands dirty picking produce from the garden.

    So we’re here to harvest and we’re going to clear this out, right?  Right, Sam?  I know I’m going to be pulling up some radishes and doing some lettuce, but you guys are going to help harvest everything that’s over there.  

    After they were done harvesting they had a chance to try some of the vegetables they picked -- on a grilled garden pizza. 

    We’re going to actually get to eat what we harvest today.  So in addition to doing some harvesting, you guys are going to help -- we’re going to do some veggie flatbread pizzas with the vegetables from the garden.  You guys up for a little cooking, too?

    Watch a video of the planting below or on youtube:

    Want to plant your own garden? Check out the Let's Move gardening guides:

  • This live event has concluded. Watch the "We the Geeks" Hangout below or on YouTube and stay tuned for upcoming Hangouts. You can join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #WeTheGeeks.

    This Friday, an asteroid nearly three kilometers wide is going to pass by the Earth-Moon system. The fly-by is harmless — at its closest, the asteroid will be about 15 times farther from us than the Earth is from the Moon — but to mark the event, the White House will host the second in a series of "We the Geeks" Google+ Hangouts to talk asteroids with Bill Nye the Science Guy, former astronaut Ed Lu, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, and more.

  • POTUS High Five Jersey Shore

    President Barack Obama greets kids during his visit to the Point Pleasant boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., May 28, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    Today, President Obama took a trip to the Jersey Shore, where he visited with local families and business owners who are preparing for the 2013 summer season.

    President Obama last visited New Jersey in November of last year to see firsthand the damage and destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy. But today, thanks to extensive rebuilding efforts over the last several months, boardwalks, beaches and businesses up and down the shore are ready to welcome summer visitors, as the President explained.

    Now, we all understand there’s still a lot of work to be done. There are homes to rebuild. There are businesses to reopen. There are landmarks and beaches and boardwalks that aren’t all the way back yet. But thanks to the hard work of an awful lot of people, we’ve got wonderful shops and restaurants and arcades that are opening their doors. And I saw what thousands of Americans saw over Memorial Day Weekend: You are stronger than the storm. After all you’ve dealt with, after all you’ve been through, the Jersey Shore is back and it is open for business, and they want all Americans to know that they’re ready to welcome you here. 

    “If anybody wondered whether the Shore could ever be all right again, you got your answer this weekend,” President Obama said. "From Sea Bright to Bay Head, from Belmar to Seaside Heights, folks were hanging out on balconies and beaches. Shows were sold out at the Stone Pony. Kids were eating ice cream and going on rides, going and eating some more ice cream. Guys were trying to win those big stuffed animals to impress a special girl." 

  • Earlier today, President Obama sent the message below to the White House email list, asking Americans to support the rebuilding efforts in Moore, Oklahoma. If you didn't get the email, be sure to sign up.

    Good morning --

    On Sunday, I was in Moore, Oklahoma. Today, I'm headed to the Jersey Shore. Those two communities are separated by half a continent but united by a common sense of purpose. Like Joplin, Tuscaloosa, and New Orleans, they are home to people who've seen nature at its worst and humanity at its best. And they're filled with those who have made the choice to rebuild after disaster, to come back stronger than ever.

    The scene on the ground this weekend was one we all know too well: homes wrecked and neighborhoods devastated. But the memories I'll take away from Moore will be of people standing tall, of neighbor helping neighbor, of survivors working to ensure that no one suffers through tragedy alone. And that too, was strikingly familiar. I could have been back in Brigantine Beach after Hurricane Sandy. I could have been in Joplin in 2011.

  • Ed. Note: "Carole King: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize In Performance at the White House" will premiere tonight, Tuesday, May 28 at 8 p.m. ET on PBS stations nationwide (check local listings)

    Tonight, PBS will broadcast "Carole King: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize In Performance at the White House" a tribute to one of America's most successful songwriters and hosted by the President and the First Lady. To mark the occassion, we thought it was the perfect opportunity to talk with White House Curator, Bill Allman, about one of the White House's most recognized artifacts, The Steinway Piano.

    Before the PBS show airs tonight, watch this video about the famous piano that has helped to establish the East Room of the White House as a focal point for the performing arts.

  • Thomas Friedman’s New York Times column, Obamacare’s Other Surprise, highlights a rising tide of innovation that has been unleashed by the Affordable Care Act and the Administration’s health IT and data initiatives. Supported by digital data, new data-driven tools, and payment policies that reward improving the quality and value of care, doctors, hospitals, patients, and entrepreneurs across the nation are demonstrating that smarter, better, more accessible, and more proactive care is the best way to improve quality and control health care costs.   

    We are witnessing the emergence of a data-powered revolution in health care. Catalyzed by the Recovery Act, adoption of electronic health records is increasing dramatically. More than half of all doctors and other eligible providers and nearly 80 percent of hospitals are using electronic health records to improve care, an increase of more than 200 percent since 2008. In addition, the Administration’s Health Data Initiative is making a growing supply of key government data on everything from hospital charges and quality to regional health care system performance statistics freely available in computer-readable, downloadable form, as fuel for innovation, entrepreneurship, and discovery.

    As Friedman describes, these trends, combined with efforts under the Affordable Care Act to change how we pay health care providers to better reward improving the quality and value of care, are creating a “new marketplace and platform for innovation.” Entrepreneurs and innovators across the country are developing and deploying new data-powered IT tools to help clinicians succeed at delivering better care at lower cost.

  • Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the HealthCare blog at Read more about data-powered health care here.

    A recent New York Times column, Obamacare’s Other Surprise, by Thomas L. Friedman echoes what we’ve been hearing from health care providers and innovators: Data that support medical decision-making and collaboration, dovetailing with new tools in the Affordable Care Act, are spurring the innovation necessary to deliver improved health care for more people at affordable prices.

    Today, we are focused on driving a smarter health care system focused on the quality – not quantity – of care. The health care law includes many tools to increase transparency, avoid costly mistakes and hospital readmissions, keep patients healthy, and encourage new payment and care delivery models, like Accountable Care Organizations. Health information technology is a critical underpinning to this larger strategy.    

    Policies like these are already driving improvements. Prior to the law, nearly one in five Medicare patients discharged from a hospital was readmitted within 30 days, at a cost of over $26 billion every year. After implementing policies to incentivize better care coordination after a hospital discharge, the 30-day, all-cause readmission rate is estimated to have dropped during 2012 to a low of 18 percent in October, after averaging 19 percent for the previous five years. This downward trend translates to about 70,000 fewer admissions in 2012.

    Insurance companies are also now required to publicly justify their actions if they want to raise rates by 10% or more. Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the proportion of requests for double-digit rate increases fell from 75 percent in 2010 to 14 percent so far in 2013.

    Reforms like these have helped slow Medicare and Medicaid spending per beneficiary to historically low rates of growth.

    Mobilizing Use of Health Information Technology

    Last week, we reached an important milestone in the adoption of health information technology. More than half of all doctors and other eligible providers and nearly 80 percent of hospitals are using electronic health records (EHRs) to improve care, an increase of at least 200 percent since 2008.