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Entries in Obama Administration (13)

Wednesday
Aug082012

Administration Urges Multi-Pronged Effort to Stop School Bullies

US Dept of Education(WASHINGTON) -- Delivering the keynote address Tuesday at the Bullying Prevention Summit, Education Secretary Arne Duncan promised that the Obama administration would make awareness of the problem a national priority.

That includes running new public service announcements in a joint campaign with the Ad Council and the Free to Be Foundation that urge people to report instances of bullying rather than ignoring them.

Duncan emphasized that the battle against bullying can't be won alone but rather, "It takes all of us working together to dramatically reduce this epidemic."

The nation's top educator said that one important step is getting to the root of the problem, meaning that "school cultures are going to have to change so that no one tolerates behavior that puts any child at risk."

However, Duncan promised that the federal government won't idly stand by and watch others do all the heavy lifting to combat the problem.  He expressed hope that two bills, the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, will quickly be approved by Congress.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Aug022012

Solyndra Report: Obama Admin. Restructured Loan on PR Concerns

Ken James/Bloomberg via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Senior Obama Administration officials decided to restructure the government's half-billion-dollar loan to the California solar energy firm Solyndra even after government analysts had concluded it would cost taxpayers far less to allow the company to fail, according to a newly released report on the investigation into the Solyndra matter by House Republicans.

The decision appeared to be made at least in part out of concern with how it would look if Solyndra -- the first recipient of government funds meant to spark growth in the nation's production of cleaner burning fuels -- went bust, according to the report, which quoted extensively from internal administration emails.

"DOE is likely to be very sensitive about optics if it should default," one analyst wrote in an email.

"A meltdown that would likely be very embarrassing for DOE and the Administration," wrote another.

Solyndra ultimately did go bankrupt, giving rise to a long running political battle between the Obama Administration and House Republicans over the way the federal government doled out billions of dollars to companies trying to develop cleaner burning fuels and more environmentally friendly technology. The dispute has become a central point of attack against Obama by his Republican rival in the 2012 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney. The government's loss in the Solyndra bankruptcy has become the subject of campaign attack ads, and Romney visited the shuttered company headquarters in Freemont, California to further press the point.

"Solyndra should serve as a cautionary tale on how political pressures and an administration's desire to create political events to highlight its policies can result in poor decision-making," the report says.

White House officials responded to the report Thursday by emphasizing that, in their view, the investigation failed to produce evidence of the most stinging allegation that has been leveled by Republicans – that of political meddling. White House officials have said politics never entered the discussion to loan money to Solyndra, or later to attempt to save the company from failure.

"This is month 18 of this Congressional investigation and everything disclosed in the 215,000 pages of documents, 14 committee staff briefings, five Congressional hearings, 72,000 pages from Solyndra investors, and Committee interview with George Kaiser, affirms what we said on day one: this was a merit-based decision made by the Department of Energy," said White House spokesman Eric Schultz. "As Republicans won't answer how much investigation has cost taxpayers, we believe they should instead be focused on legislation to creating jobs and grow the economy."

This major point of contention -- about the role of politics in the loan-making process -- is not unaddressed in the report. House investigators include evidence, much of it already reported by ABC News and others, that suggests the Department of Energy sped up the loan to Solyndra to allow for the vice president to announce it.

But evidence suggesting the influence of a major Obama donor who controlled entities that were large investors in Solyndra was less clear cut. The report includes emails indicating that Oklahoma billionaire Robert Kaiser was concerned about the government loan, but no specific evidence showing he tried to use his influence as a donor to sway the administration's actions.

Administration officials said a full response to the House Energy and Commerce Committee report would be out later this morning.

The 150-page House report, which is based on interviews with key officials, testimony from five hearings, and on more than 300,000 internal administration emails, focuses considerable attention on the period in late 2010 and early 2011. The company that had been the flagship of President Obama's Green Energy initiative was on the verge of failure.

Inside the administration, the report concludes, a debate ensued between government analysts with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and those running the loan program at the Department of Energy. A struggling Solyndra had been missing payments on the government's $535 million loan to the company, and Energy Department officials began working on a plan to restructure the terms of the loan.

The report says OMB analysts concluded the decision to pour more federal money into the failing company was a mistake. And that mistake would be compounded, they wrote in emails, by a perplexing decision to allow the government to give up its position as the first to be repaid in the event of Solyndra's failure.

One analyst wrote that she was "vastly confused by DOE's decision to negotiate away their senior position in this transaction."

Another wrote that the federal government's chance of recovering some portion of the funds it had loaned would be "significantly higher" under an immediate liquidation. The OMB analysis "confirms our earlier concern that DOE's restructuring could effectively result in higher costs than liquidation at this point," the internal email stated.

The Republican report states that emails and documents produced by the White House and OMB confirmed that "the White House was involved in discussions about the Solyndra restructuring and agreed to allow DOE to proceed with the restructuring even after concerns about the transaction had been raised by OMB with the White House."

That assertion is based primarily on internal OMB emails, including one that said "prior to [the] restructuring, OMB staff expressed reservations about the prospects of the company and DOE's proposal. This issue was discussed with the [National Economic Council] and the Chief of Staff."

The report suggests that White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew – who was then the head of the Office of Management and Budget – made a critical decision in January 2011 about the role his agency would play in reviewing the restructuring. Rather than taking an active role in the decision, he took the position that the agency should simply review the financial upsides and downsides, and nothing more.

According to an interview with an OMB staffer cited by the report, in deciding "between a more 'active intervention' and OMB assuming its 'traditional oversight role ... Lew determined that OMB would play its 'traditional statutory role' with respect to the Solyndra restructuring."

Republican House Speaker John Boehner seized on this during remarks Monday, saying the report "exposes [how] Jack Lew, now the White House chief of staff, ignored the warnings of his own Office of Management and Budget staff and failed to shut down Solyndra, which cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars."

"I think Mr. Lew and the White House owe the American people an explanation as to why they squandered hundreds of millions of dollars," Boehner said.

But the Energy and Commerce Committee had little more evidence showing senior officials were directly involved. According to the report, "the White House provided only a handful of documents from the period during which the Solyndra loan guarantee was being restructured."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jun222011

International Billboard Research Trip 'Ridiculous,' Watchdog Says

The White House/Lawrence Jackson(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama administration has ordered a halt to a decade-long, multi-million dollar program that sent bureaucrats around the world to study foreign highways, but not before one group of officials completes an on-going taxpayer-funded foreign jaunt.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said late Tuesday he was suspending the program "while [he] personally reviews the way taxpayer dollars have been spent."

"The president has been clear: We must get rid of stupid spending and pointless waste," LaHood said in an emailed statement to ABC News. "Each taxpayer dollar is precious, and there is no excuse for wasting a single one.  That's why...I have suspended this program."

But LaHood's order came while a group of transportation officials was already abroad and that group plans to continue their itinerary -- studying pavement -- while LaHood studies the value of the program.  The group will return June 26, as scheduled, officials said.

"Taxpayers certainly should be outraged that their money is being spent on this type of activity when our roads are falling part, gas taxes and prices are at an all-time high," Tom Schatz, President of Citizens Against Government Waste, said on ABC's Good Morning America. "It really is a ridiculous use of our money."

The initiative, known as the International Scan Program, has been sending federal and state transportation employees to popular foreign tourist destinations for the past decade with the goal of studying how other countries handle the challenges of running major highway networks.  Other trips have been planned to study such issues as motorcycle safety, managing pavement, precast concrete, and adapting to climate change.

But the program began prompting questions in recent weeks, as members of Congress learned that a group of transportation officials traveled around the globe -- a nine city tour that took them to Australia, Sweden, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Great Britain -- in order to prepare a 76-page report about policies for dealing with billboard advertising.

Photos from the trip obtained by ABC News show some of the 12-member delegation toasting with wine glasses in Australia and driving the tulip-lined highways of Holland.  Travel records show the group secured luxury accommodations and ate in only the best eateries.  In Melbourne, that meant dining along the waterfront at the pricey Scusami Italian Restaurant, in Brisbane, the LAB Restaurant, in Stockholm, the five-star Fem Sma House.

The cost of the 17-day trip for bureaucrats to study billboards? Roughly $300,000, according to estimates the administration provided to Congress.  (Transportation officials said roughly $40,000 of that covered the expenses of the three federal workers on the trip.)

The program has been sending groups of federal and state workers on similar trips as often as four times a year for the past decade, at a total cost of nearly $12 million.

A transportation official said Tuesday night that the decision had been made weeks ago to include it in future cuts, and was not in response to ABC News questions.

Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, was also surprised by the extent of travel the Federal Highway Administration had engaged in, especially in an age when a great deal can be accomplished by teleconference and the Internet.

"I certainly think there's a waste of money here that this program needs to be tightened up, needs to be investigated," he said Tuesday.  "I think this is the type of foreign travel that should be grounded."

ABC News first contacted the Federal Highway Administration on Monday evening after obtaining a copy of a letter that House Republicans sent to the department late last week.

"We recognize that our transportation system can benefit from understanding best practices abroad," the June 17 letter to LaHood says.  "But we are unable to justify to the voters in our districts such spending in the face of rising gasoline prices and federal deficits."

The letter is signed by Reps. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), Jason Altmire (D-Pa.), Rick Crawford (R-Ark.), Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), John Carter (R-Texas), Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), Steve Southerland (R-Fl.) and Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.).

U.S. Transportation officials said the program has been co-financed with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation officials, and that it has produced some victories for taxpayers in the past.  For instance, one trip to study prefabricated bridge technologies contributed to accelerated bridge replacement in a number of locations, with some jurisdictions reporting savings as a result.

LaHood sent his statement to ABC News Tuesday evening, saying he did not believe it met the strict test the administration is using to evaluate spending programs.

"From the outset of this administration, I have urged agency personnel to be judicious and cost-conscious in the use of official travel and we will not tolerate any abuse of the public trust," he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jun022011

White House Slams Report that Says War on Drugs 'Has Failed'

Doug Menuez/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The White House is slamming a report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy that says the long running war on drugs has been a failure.

In the report, the commission stated, "The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.  Fifty years after the initiation of the U.N. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the U.S. government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed."

The commission also recommended that certain controlled substances should be legalized.

However, the White House says legalizing drugs like marijuana remains a non-starter for the Obama administration.

The Office of National Drug Policy says the war is succeeding because overall drug use in the U.S. is about half what in was in the late 70s. The president's approach, the office says, focuses on drug addiction as a disease, providing treatment and on efforts to prevent drug abuse.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jun012011

Obama Admin. Rejects Indiana’s Ban on Planned Parenthood Funding

Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama administration Wednesday rejected Indiana’s proposal to ban the use of Medicaid funds at Planned Parenthood clinics.

In a letter to Patricia Casanova, director of the state Office of Medicaid Policy and Planning, Dr. Donald Berwick, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said that Indiana’s ban violated a provision of the law allowing that “beneficiaries may obtain covered services from any qualified provider that undertakes to provide such services.”

In May, GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a law banning Medicaid funds from going to "any entity that performs abortions or maintains or operates a facility where abortions are performed."

Daniels said that “any organization affected by this provision can resume receiving taxpayer dollars immediately by ceasing or separating its operations that perform abortions.”

Those who oppose abortion have long argued that even if federal funds don’t directly go to fund abortions in groups such as Planned Parenthood, allowing such clinics to receive funding for other services frees up private funds to be spent on abortions.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana says that 96 percent of its work is preventative, with only four percent abortion-related. Four out of the 28 Planned Parenthood clinics in Indiana perform abortions. A spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Indiana has said that 20 percent of its annual budget comes from federal funding.

Noting that “federal Medicaid funding of abortion services is not permitted under federal law except in extraordinary circumstances (such as in cases of rape or incest),” Berwick wrote that “Medicaid programs may not exclude qualified health care providers from providing services that are funded under the program because of a provider’s scope of practice.”

Between January 2010 and May 31, 2011, CMS had formally denied 19 state plan amendments, though not for the same reason. An Obama administration official says that CMS did not impose penalties in any of these matters, and the state ended up complying with the CMS ruling.

Officials from the Indiana Office of Medicaid Policy and Planning could not be reached for comment.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Jan222011

Obama Administration May Delay Fannie-Freddie Proposal

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The government may not release a proposal on the restructuring of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac before the Congressional deadline of Jan. 31.

The overhaul of Fannie and Freddie has been a delicate and urgent issue, with much debate concerning the extent of government regulation. The Dodd-Frank Law was the most sweeping legislation prompted by the recession, but it failed to offer a solution to the mortgage monopolies.

The Obama administration has been preoccupied with the State of the Union address, and reportedly plans to releasing the so-called "white paper" the week of Feb. 7, according to The Financial Times.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Dec132010

Virginia Judge Rules Health Care Legislation Unconstitutional

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(RICHMOND, Va.) -- On Monday, a federal judge in Virginia ruled the Obama Administration's recently passed health care legislation is unconstitutional.

United States District Judge Henry E. Hudson made the ruling, which targeted a provision of the act that requires individuals to either obtain a minimum level of health insurance coverage, or pay a penalty for failing to do so.  The provision is set to go into effect in 2014.

Virginia challenged the law, arguing that Congress exceeded its authority in passing the legislation and that the law conflicts with a state law already on the books that says residents cannot be forced to buy health insurance.

The Obama administration contends Congress was well within its authority, under the Commerce Clause, to pass the so called "individual mandate" because the costs of the uninsured translate to interstate economic activity.  In court briefs, government lawyers argue that in 2009 alone 45 million people -- an estimated 15 percent of the population -- went without health insurance.

The government lawyers argued "Congress has the authority under Commerce power to take measures to ensure the success of its larger reforms of the interstate market."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Dec012010

Obama: No New Offshore Oil Drilling in East

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama administration, reversing itself in the wake of April's BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, has let it be known that it will maintain a long-standing ban on offshore oil drilling off the East Coast or western coast of Florida -- and political activists of all stripes are weighing in with delight or outrage.

Charlie Crist, the outgoing governor of Florida (a Republican turned Independent this year), told local reporters in Tallahassee the decision was "wonderful news."

"That's news that will be very favorably received by the tourist industry throughout the state, but also by the people," Crist said.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, said the administration was continuing a "misguided policy." "The Administration is taking the wrong approach in responding to the BP spill and creating energy jobs in this country.  The answer isn’t to give up and say, ‘America can’t figure it out, we’ll rely on other countries to produce our energy.’  The answer is to find out what went wrong and make effective, timely reforms to ensure that U.S. offshore drilling is the safest in the world," said Hastings.

Environmental groups, on the other hand, applauded. “As we saw this summer, offshore oil drilling cannot be done safely," said Andrew Sharpless, CEO of the group Oceana.  "It wrecks fisheries, kills the jobs that depend upon them, and contaminates beaches. This decision is a wise and sensible step to protect Florida, the Atlantic coast and the Pacific coast from an inevitable disaster from expanded drilling.  It’s great to see the government acting in a strong, clear and far-sighted way to protect the oceans – and the people who work and depend on them."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Nov112010

White House Set to Extend Bush Tax Cuts

(WASHINGTON) -- The White House said Wednesday it is prepared to sign off on an across-the-board extension of tax cuts put in place by the Bush administration. 

President Obama's top adviser, David Axelrod, said the extension would ensure that middle-class Americans are not faced with a tax increase at year's end.

The White house would prefer to extend the tax cuts permanently for individuals making under $200,000 and couples making under $250,000, but Republicans have argued that even the wealthiest Americans should see an extension.

Top lawmakers from both parties are set to discuss the issue with the president at the White House next Thursday. Lawmakers will have until the start of the new year to extend the tax cuts.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Monday
Nov012010

Appeals Court: 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' to Remain in Effect

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A federal appeals court ruled Monday that the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy, which bars openly gay troops from serving in the military, can remain in effect while the Obama administration appeals a lower court's ruling that the policy is unconstitutional.

By a 2-1 vote, the appeals court said that "the public interest in ensuring orderly change of this magnitude in the military--if that is what is to happen--strongly militates in favor of a stay. "

A lawyer for the Log Cabin Republicans, a group that is challenging the policy, said in a statement: "The court's ruling is a disappointment not only to us, but also to all homosexual servicemembers who bravely put themselves in harm's way so that we can all enjoy the constitutional rights and freedoms that they themselves are being denied."

The group's lawyer, Dan Woods of White and Case, said his client had not decided yet whether to ask the Supreme Court to review Monday's decision.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio







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